Category Archives: EZ 63 – Mind Philosophy


Peranakan Chinese and Baba-Nyonya are terms used for the descendants of late 15th and 16th-century Chinese immigrants to the Malay-Indonesian archipelago of Nusantara during the Colonial era.

Members of this community in Malaysia identify themselves as ‘Nyonya-Baba’ or ‘Baba-Nyonya’. Nyonya is the term for the females and Baba for males. It applies especially to the ethnic Chinese populations of the British Straits Settlements of Malaya and the Dutch-controlled island of Java and other locations, who adopted partially or in full Malay-Indonesian customs to become partially assimilated into the local communities.

While the term Peranakan is most commonly used among the ethnic Chinese for those of Chinese descent also known as Straits Chinese (土生華人; named after the Straits Settlements), it may also be applied to the Baba-Yaya community in Phuket and other provinces of southern Thailand.

Is there a difference between the Chinese and the Baba Nyonya of the Straits Settlement during the good old days? Definitely it is undeniable that the lifestyles have some distinctive variations. The obvious were the food, customs, kinship, attire and language. The Nyonya believed that to keep a man’s heart at home was to have excellent culinary skills – to cook good, delicious food making sure that the husband is full and happy. Hence this is one of the reasons why Nyonya food until today is still so popular. Due to the fact that the Baba Nyonya have resided along the Straits Settlement for a long time, the way they dressed and conversed were highly influenced by the Malay culture. However, the common belief is that somewhere along the ancestry line is that the great grandmothers or the great, great grandmothers were of Malay origin but was found to be unsubstantiated as research by interviewing offsprings of Baba Nyonya families did not show any Malay blood line. Even by arguing the fact that some of the Chinese men who stayed on with Princess Hang Li Po during the late 15th century and marrying local women, thus creating the Baba Nyonya’s connection is over stretching history especially when only after four centuries were the Baba Nyonya and its historical lifestyles documented. The common misinterpretation until today that the Chinese in Malaysia are called ‘Malay People’ or ‘马来人‘ by Chinese living in China and Hong Kong may be the answer that the Chinese men who migrated from China then married a ‘Malay Girl’ from Malaya which in fact is referring to a local Chinese girl.

Baba Nyonya Wedding Photo, 1920 
images courtesy of

Further to comparing the similarities and differences between the Chinese and Baba Nyonya, it is rather peculiar that scholars have yet to find any Baba Nyonya association that was formed during the late 19th century. Unlike the Chinese, where many associations were established for those who came from the same regions in China, spoke the same dialects, have the same surnames, or worked in the same trades, etc. it is also found that some prominent Babas were members and contributed to these Chinese associations. The reason why the Baba Nyonya did not have their own association that time inclined some to opine that they actually considered themselves part of the Chinese community but living differently from the traditional Chinese culture.