Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Baba Nyonya

Who are the Baba Nyonya? What is Baba? What is Nyonya? Where are they found?

I have 3 Nyonya aunts and they have descriptive names - Nyonya Elok (nice lady), Nyonya Cantik (pretty lady), and Nyonya smthg (tall lady). 

Who are the Baba and Nyonya? They are a hybrid generation formed from the Chinese and Malay. They are characteristically Chinese but with a Malay-word but Chinese-sounding lingua.

The dressing is slightly different from the typical Malay but there are similarities. Cuisine inclines towards the Chinese but can be eaten by the Malay, for example kuih lapisbubur cha cha and kuih kapit.

These photos below are from the Penang Museum display at the Baba Nyonya hall.

Nyonya kebaya labuh and kain sarong. The kebaya is worn with kerongsang. The Malay baju kurung is also long and is joined in front and needs no chained kerongsang except for a tiny piece to hold the neck pieces together. The Malay baju kebaya labuh is the same as the Nyonya baju kebaya labuh and uses a chained kerongsang. A metal belt is used to hold the sarong in place. The metal belt is used by women throughout Malaya and Indonesia.
Long brocade kebaya, possibly a precursor of the Malay baju kurung or kebaya labuh
Short see-through kebaya and kain sarong. This type of kebaya is worn with a camisole or some lighter undergarment. There were no bras at the time and the Chinese and Nyonya sewed and wore the kutang (a form of Chinese bra). The kutang is a white cotton undergarment and is usually made of cotton material as it is highly absorbent. It has tie strings and no hooks as the modern bra. Most Chinese and Nyonya ladies prefer the kutang rather than the modern bra. The kutang is fine for ladies with small breasts but it will not serve its function for large breasts. I learned of the kutang from my grandfather's Chinese maid and also from my father. It is a taboo to mention the word kutang.
Embroidery is done manually using a table-top sewing machine. I remember my grandmother also had this sewing machine in our Banda Hilir house.
Ceremonial burial dresses worn by Baba Nyonya