The Peranakan, also once known as the Straits Chinese, are more commonly associated with the states of Penang and Melaka in Malaysia. However, little do people know that the East Coast state of Terengganu has a considerable Peranakan population, meshing well with its predominantly Muslim majority. Recently, we attended a festival they held to commemorate their unique culture—which some claim is sadly faltering as generations pass. Read more…
Simply put, the Peranakan are the descendants of Chinese immigrants, mostly Hokkien from Guandong and Fujian, who have taken in Malay customs or married the locals. They adopt a fascinatingly unique culture, especially regarded for its traditions and cuisine.
The term Peranakan is commonly used to refer to the Straits-Chinese or those from what the colonial British defined as Melaka, Penang, and Singapore, or collectively, the Straits Settlements. However, waves of migration through centuries distributed the Peranakan across parts of present-day Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and even Thailand.
Terengganu has a Peranakan population that calls its men mek and women awang—unlike the baba and nyonya popularly used across the Straits Settlements. Most of them live in the colorful Kampung Cina or Chinatown in Kuala Terengganu, the state capital.
The Terengganu Chinese Chamber of Commerce has been holding the Peranakan Terengganu Festival, which coincided with the Terengganu International Squid Jigging Festival this year.
The main objective of the annual event is to showcase Peranakan culture—apparently a way to prevent it from being lost in the consciousness of the present and future generations. The festivities are also an opportunity for people of all races to celebrate and mingle with each other.
We attended the festival one night, and we were welcomed with big festivities, starting with lanterns that adorned Chinatown’s streets. The convivial mood was upped by stalls selling delicacies, ranging from tau fu fah (soy custard) to crab cakes. And as we walked along the road, we ushered by beautiful women in ceremonial garb and presented with street performances.
The highlight of the night, however, was the opening program that included song and dance numbers from the mek and awang, cultural performances, fireworks, and lastly, the most impressive lion and dragon dances I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
In all, the festival was a night to remember, as it gave us a glimpse of the colorful Peranakan culture still alive in Terengganu. I felt honored and happy to have partaken in the celebrations.
Photos courtesy of Faiz Jalal of Gaya Travel Magazine.
This year is Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015 with the theme “Endless Celebrations.” Visitors can expect a series of year-long special events and activities throughout the country. For more updates on MYFEST2015, check out tourism.gov.my and like Tara Na Sa Malaysia on Facebook.