There is a lot a folklore about the origins of the Peranakans. According to the Sejarah Melayu (or the Malay Annals), Chinese Ming princess Hang Li Poh was married off to Sultan Mansur Shah of Malacca in the 15th century. It is believed that Princess Hang Li Poh arrived in Malacca with a large entourage who settled there and married locally. The offspring from these mixed marriages were called ‘Peranakan’.
‘Peranakan’ is a Malay word meaning ‘locally born’.
Legend aside, it is a well-known fact that a majority of the Peranakans are descendants from marriages between Chinese traders who migrated to the British-controlled Straits Settlements (Singapore, Penang and Malacca) and local Malay women.
Today, if you walk around Singapore’s heritage areas, you will notice the colourful tiles that decorate some of the shophouse facades. These houses belong to the Peranakans and the tiles are known as ‘Peranakan tiles’ – a nod to the community that could afford to buy them and thus, popularised them in colonial times.
These tiles also add a decorative touch to the tombs of Peranakans buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery. More about that in my post, Tales from Tombstones.
In the Mar-Apr’15 issue of PASSAGE (the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore), I trace the history of the exquisite Peranakan tile.