A tour through the Babanyonya mansion

The history of the Babanyonyas

A beautiful cultural fusion of Chinese and Malay can be found Inside the UNESCO world heritage sites of Penang and Malacca. Babanyonyas are the term for the children of a local malay and a chinese immigrant. “Baba” being the man, and “Nyonya”, the lady. What made the babanyonyas so special is that because of their unusual disposition having parents of different cultures and beliefs, they were able to create a unique culture of their own. Come, and let us have a glimpse of their Mansion.

Entering the enormous house

Once you enter the mansion, you will notice how come it’s width is relatively small to be called a mansion. This is because the houses back then paid taxes in proportion to the width of the house. That means you would be charged for higher taxes if you wanted to have a wider house. The clever Babanyonyas thought of solutions in order to minimize their expenses (technicalities, people). Their solution? Building an unusually long, house. Once you enter, only then you will realize how large the mansion really is.

The mansion ceiling

At the picture shown above, you can see how a portion of the ceiling is designed in such a way that it allows water to enter the house when it rains. This is done because the Chinese believe that water is a sign of good luck and water in the house will bring good fortune. Thus, the water from the ceiling is collected via a lowered flooring beneath it (photo below). A drain at the lowered flooring is installed to prevent flooding of the house. Maybe they could also use the water here to wash their feet from work. Who knows?

Incorporating Feng Shui to their home

There are usually two entrances to the other chambers of the house. Who would have thought that these entrances still convey a meaning to the Chinese culture? Believe me, you would never notice it without the explanation of the tour guide. Normally, one would go to the entrance nearest to them for convenience (as an ordinary folk would normally do). However, the Chinese believed that entering and exiting the chamber in a clockwise direction would bring good luck and order to the house. So, at this spot, the Babanyonyas would enter at the left side entrance, and exit to the right.

Exquisite wall carvings inside the house

Babanyonya wares

One thing about the Babanyonyas is that they like to show off. As individuals belonging to the upper tier of the society back then, they have more than enough wealth to fund their luxuries. Yeah, often their items may be impractical but it is a way of showing other people that they are people born of wealthy families. Talk about pride, huh. The golden purse below for example, can only accomodate a single piece of handkerchief. Yep. And oh- who would have thought that the detailed piece of artwork (second photo below) topped off with a golden bird sculpture is actually a food cover. Surprisingly, the diameter of the food cover is only a couple of inches wide. Don’t expect a roasted chicken under that food cover.

The duties of the Nyonyas

The Nyonyas are not allowed to go outside the mansion. To pass their time and to make it more productive, their mother would teach them how to cook and stitch. This is a very important art that Nyonyas should master as it would be determining their worth as a wife in the future. The more skilled you are in this field as a Nyonya, the more chances you have of being the first wife of a Baba (Babas are allowed to have more than 1 wife, and being the first wife is somewhat a privilege for the Nyonyas).

Competition is rampant in a Babanyonya household. Let’s say the Baba has a total of 4 wives, each of them having one biological daughter of their own. So, the family now has 4 mothers, 4 daughters and a father. Do you think each mother would treat the other daughters with as much attention as their own daughter? No. A strong “unannounced” competition would naturally occur.

Babanyonya entertainment

As Nyonyas are mainly kept inside the house, they had very limited ways to entertain themselves. One way of entertainment for the Nyonyas is this game if Cherki. Only the Nyonyas are allowed to play this game as the men are expected to be out of the house working for the family.

Dining and eating

This is the view from the father’s seat of the Babanyonyas. It is not seen in the picture, but there are two huge mirrors located at both sides of the wall (left and right view of the father). This allows him to have a peek at his guest’s facial expression during formal gatherings (doing so directly would be an unproffesional thing to do). Also, the two huge mirrors serve as an old fashioned CCTV wherein he sees the most important spots in the house from his seat.

Final thoughts:

There are loads of information you will get regarding the lives of Babanyonyas from this unique museum. Make sure to pay this one a visit if ever you stumble upon the streets of Penang and Malacca. The ones discussed in here does not even gauge to a quarter of the tour in the house.


– Penang 20 RM (5.096 $)

-Malacca 12 RM (3.057 $)

Contact details/ Address:

29, Church Street, 10200 Penang, Malaysia.

telephone:  604-2642929,
fax: 604-2641929
e-mail: rmhbaba@streamyx.com.
e-mail 2: rmhbaba@gmail.com


Can’t get enough of Malaysia? Then check out my travel guide: Malaysia by clicking HERE.

I hope that I was able to stir your interest about the colorful culture of the Babanyonyas. Happy traveling guys!!

-Carlo, WHT


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      Carlo Tuzon

      Hi Goldilocks! Thank you for the nice comment! I’m glad that you have also seen the mansion for yourself. And, for you to remember it so well, I guess that you enjoyed your stay there too! The Babanyonyas have really colorful cultures.😊 I do hope that more people will come to appreciate it.

  1. d i l i p

    You have a great blog, Carlo. I am not sure if I will ever be able to visit these places, but it’s nice to read and live that experience through your writing and photographs. 🙂

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      Carlo Tuzon

      Thank you! I’m glad that you felt that way after reading my posts. It is encouraging to hear that from you. Same goes for me after seeing your photographs. I had the sudden urge to learn professional photography. 😅 I’m sure you’ll go a long way with your skill. Thanks for stopping by, dilip!
      -Carlo, WHT

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