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Sunday, 8 November 2015

Singapore, Peranakan Museum

Peranakan Museum, Singapore

Moving away from Bras Basah Road but still within walking distance is the Peranakan Museum. The building it's housed in is historically interesting as well. It was the Tao Nan School, a Chinese medium school, the first that changed from teaching in the Hokkien language to Mandarin back in 1912. Very groundbreaking at the time. This change was done at the time the school moved to the building which is now the Peranakan Museum. 

It's a beautiful building and work on it began in 1910, it was finished for the school to move into, in 1912. Eventually the school numbers declined as more people moved away from the city centre to the suburbs and like the catholic schools on Bras Basah Road, it moved to a more spacious location and the school still exists today.


At the time it was built is was very much the best of its kind. There is a central atrium with walkways and stairs, wide verandahs to capture the breezes to help keep the building cool.

By the 2010s it was decided to use the building as a museum to the Peranakan history and culture.

The Peranakans were originally traders who moved from China and settled in the Malay peninsula and Indonesia. A smaller group came from southern India, eventually they moved to the trading post that became Singapore. Culturally they considered themselves different from those who had settled in Singapore having moved directly from China or India, rather than having lived and traded away from their countries of origin before moving to Singapore. The Peranakans were different as they could speak several languages, were highly educated and the British colonial authorities employed them in large numbers.

The museum had an exhibit while I was there of prominent Singaporeans of Peranakan origin and it was fascinating reading what they had achieved, and how many highly educated women there were, from the pre-independence era. Lee Kuan Yew's wife was one, she also identified Lee Kuan Yew's family as Peranakan, even though he himself never did as he chose to emphasise the importance of a unified Singaporean identity rather than dividing Singapore among its ethnic divisions. Interesting she pointed out that growing up Lee couldn't read or write Chinese and his family spoke English, something that distinguished them apart of those who identified as Chinese and had moved to Singapore directly from China.

The museum itself was divided into different rooms showing different aspects of Peranakan culture. As you entered you were greeted by a statue of Queen Victoria.

Placed in Singapore for her Jubilee (50th?) shows the Anglophile nature of the Peranakan people at the time.


Table setting for a banquet.


A wedding party.


A wedding bed.



An altar for deceased family members.

I really liked this museum as I learnt so much about the Peranakan people and culture. People, about whom I knew next to nothing about previously, a museum well worth visiting on a trip to Singapore.


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