Inside the UNESCO world heritage sites of Penang and Malacca Malaysia, a beautiful cultural fusion of Chinese and Malay can be found. Within its streets, one can find the mansion of the famous Babanyonyas. 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.
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. So, if you wanted to have a wider house, you would be charged for higher taxes as well. 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.
At the picture shown above, you can see how 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.
There are usually two entrances to the other chambers of the house. Who would have thought that these entrances still convey a meaning for the chinese culture. Normally, one would go to the entrance nearest to them for convenience. 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.
One thing about the Babanyonyas: 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. Often their items may be impractical, but it is a way of showing other people that they are people born of wealthy families. The golden purse below for example, can only accomodate a single piece of handkerchief.
Who would have thought that the detailed piece of artwork 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, which is again, an impractical item used solely for showing off to visitors.
The Nyonyas are not allowed to go outside the mansion, so, their mothers 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).
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.
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.
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.
Entrance fee of the Babanyonya museum:
– Penang 20 RM (5.096 $)
-Malacca 12 RM (3.057 $)
I hope that I was able to stir your interest about the colorful culture of the Babanyonyas. Happy traveling guys!!
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