A Peranakan Affair

02 June 2016

Weddings are one of the most memorable ceremonies, and a traditional Peranakan wedding definitely ranks up there as one of the most unique. We explore its rituals.

Malaysia is beautiful for its melting pot of culture, diversity and traditions that stem from various ethnicities which make up its population. Among the many is the Peranakan culture that originates from the historical city of Melaka. We spoke to Cedric Tan, the President of the Peranakan Baba Nyonya Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Association, who gave us some insight into their unique wedding rituals.

The Peranakan base their rituals and traditions on religion; typically, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. The core of beliefs focuses on Confucianism, similar to that of the Koreans. The culture revolves around honouring deities, ancestors and placing utmost importance of respecting our elders. Cedric says, “Respecting your elders is one of the key points of Peranakan culture. Everyone should know their place in society and thus, knowing their individual roles. When there is an orderly form, people will behave accordingly and there will be peace and harmony."

A traditional Peranakan wedding is especially poignant as the Peranakan people define adulthood by matrimony. If an older person remains unmarried, they are still considered a ‘child’. This stresses the importance of marriage and plenty of traditions are weaved into the process. Back in the day, traditional Peranakan weddings lasted for 12 days and the ceremony was based on ancient Chinese traditions that were passed down from one generation to the next, and led by people who've taken time to understand the significance of the traditions. Today, the significance and importance of the ceremony remains but many choose to simplify the ceremony and rituals due to time constraints and financial practicality.

Of the most important rituals in Peranakan weddings is Cheo Thau, also known as the hair combing ceremony. This particular ritual marks the rite of passage prior to the wedding ceremony; "it is when a 'child' becomes an adult and acknowledges the steps they're taking to take on bigger responsibilities and understanding that their societal roles are changing,” explains Cedric. The ceremony usually occurs between 11pm to 7am, based on the horoscope of the bride and groom and is done separately in their own homes. It's a slow process that's meant to exude grace and elegance and a number of symbolic articles are present during the ceremony. These items include a gantang, nyiru (rattan basket), scales, scissors, razor, comb, ruler, mirror, four yards of red thread, a basin of water and a sprig of ixora and spring onion.

Each item serves as a reminder to the lives the bride and groom. The scales remind us to always be fair, the mirror represents honesty and the thread represents a symbol of blessing that the new family lives up to four generations. The ceremony takes place with a professional leader and a koo yah (a young boy) who leads the ceremony by running each item over the head of the bride and the groom followed by prayers, and then the dressing of the bride and groom in traditional clothing.

Wan Lin, of Chinese ethnicity, married Leroy, a Peranakan, and had a traditional Peranakan wedding in 2015. She says, “The Cheo Thau was my favourite part of the ceremony and it was very emotional.”

The actual wedding ceremony of the Peranakans is similar to Hokkien weddings, with ancient traditions condensed and scaled down to what is practical and affordable while minimising repetition. Some don traditional costumes for the pre-nuptial rituals and enjoy more contemporary clothing for the wedding ceremony.

Being an expert on the subject, Cedric enjoys Peranakan weddings and has witnessed many himself. His favourite part of the ceremony is the tea ceremony, which is known to be the fun part! The partner officially introduces their significant other to their extended family and they'd have to address each individual with the correct title. Hence the bigger the family, the more difficult it can be, causing a lot of teasing and laughter. While a wedding ceremony is filled with rituals and tradition, it marks one of the happiest days so what better way to celebrate than with joy-filled homes?

While noting the little details of Peranakan wedding ceremonies, Cedric reminds us that as guests in such a wedding, we play our parts too. A word of advice is to avoid wearing black and accessorising with silver and pearls as these are reserved for the mourning. Instead, come in your best dress and don't forget to have fun! "Peranakan weddings are a rare occurrence so snap pictures and keep them as memories and for prosperity!"

Leroy & Wan Lin // Baba Nyonya // Traditional Peranakan Wedding // 3rd October 2015 // Malacca from Jellyfish Production on Vimeo.

By Rowena Jo Fernandez
All photos courtesy of Wan Lin and Leroy
Video courtesy of Jellyfish Production

This article is related to CULTURE


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