Asian Heritage Month 2021



by Pearly Chua-Nordlund
I am a 5th-generation Chinese Peranakan on my mother side and a 3rd-generation Chinese Peranakan on my father side. So, who are the Chinese Peranakans and what are we all about?

Some time in the 10th century, Chinese ships started sailing down the Straits of Malacca to Peninsula Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Many Chinese males settled in these areas and some eventually married the ladies of the local indigenous people – the Orang Asli (pronounced O-rung Ahs-lee). Thus, was born the Chinese Peranakans – a fusion of two eastern cultures.

As father is the head of the family, many Chinese Peranakans have Chinese names, and celebrate Chinese festivals like Chinese New Year, the Dragonboat festival and the Mooncake festival. However, since mother is the primary caregiver, many Chinese Peranakans converse in Malay, the language of the indigenous people. As mother is also the main home-maker, many Peranakan dishes are inspired by Malay cuisine, using coconut milk and spices as ingredients in our stews, curries and cakes. So, in the melting pot of the home, the Chinese Peranakans embrace the best of two cultures and gradually evolved into a culture unique to themselves.

The first picture shows my great grandfather, a 2nd-generation Peranakan, dressed in his Chinese robes, whilst my great grandmother is dressed in her Baju Panjang (a long dress-like blouse), over a batik sarong, complete with hand-sewn beaded slippers. Their two sons dress following their parents – both boys wearing the samfu-styled clothes with Chinese knotted buttons. My grandpa is standing next to his mother. If their daughters were in the picture, the younger girls would be wearing samfu-styled clothes while the older girls would be wearing the Kebaya.

Pearly2The second picture shows three generations of Nyonyas (Peranakan ladies) – my mother, my daughter and myself – dressed in our Kebayas, which are made more ornate than the Baju Panjang by the floral embroidery throughout the blouses. We were celebrating Chinese New Year in 2006.

With the advent of globalisation, I married a Canadian of European descent (Swedish-Scottish-Irish). Our two offsprings are now children of an International culture ? – carrying their father’s last name, speaking with a mix of English-Malay-Chinese and enjoying hamburgers, laksa, pizza, pongteh, poh-piah and hotdogs! You could say both of them are Canadian Peranakans living in the beautiful city of Owen Sound, embracing the best of many cultures.


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