Exquisite Vintage Kebayas – the costume of the Peranakan culture

April 21, 2011

Peranakan, Baba-Nyonya and Straits Chinese are terms used for descendants of the very early Chinese immigrants to the Nusantara region of British controlled Malaya and the Dutch controlled Java among other places, who have partailly adopted Malay customs. A small group of Indian Peranakans (Chitty) and another group of Eurasian Peranakan (Kristang) also exist.

Over the centuries, a unique Peranakan culture evolved integrating Chinese traditions with the customs of the host country – Malaysia as well the cultures of the ruler from Europe. There are traces of Portugese, Dutch, British, Malay and Indonesian influences found in the lifestyle of the Peranakans that is particularly visible in the food, furniture, home interiors and clothing. Malacca and Penang are cities in which this disappearing culture is still visible.

The Peranakan Musuem of Singapore is exhibiting exquisitie antique Kebayas and Sarongs. The following images provide a glimpse of that exhibition.

[This note presents my awe during my first exposure to this beautiful and dainty dress form as I explore its nuances for the first time – am not an expert and I do not have the necessary vocabulary to describe aptly the various elements. But, I hope that what I lack in the technical aspects will be compensated for by the wonder and the appreciation I feel for the textiles]

Purple Kebaya with embroidery and cutwork created to match the bird and floral motifs of the batik on the sarong. Mid 20th Century.

The floral batik motifs of the sarong that has been “translated” into the alternate art form  of embroidery & cutwork. How amazing is that!

The feature that lends grace to the Kebaya – the V-shaped tapering front

The fragile feature that adds to the character of the Kebaya – the stiff stand-up embroidered collar that adds a third dimension to the dress.

Fragile Green Kebaya

Flamenco Dancer Kebaya

The motifs of flamenco dancers and matadors on this Kebaya are considered to be flamboyant!

The use of an inverted musical note in the embroidery might affirm  the importance of symmetry in creating Kebayas.

Dark Blue Kebaya with unusual figure motifs, mid 20th century

Simple Kebaya with Antelope motifs, mid 20th century

Sky Blue Kebaya with chicks, mid 20th century

Two Kebayas with cutwork, mid 20th century


White Lace Kebayas – all mid 20th century



Fortunately photography was permitted in this exhibition and so it is possible for those not in Singapre to also see these lovely pieces of clothing!

The Kebayas are all from the exhibition at Peranakan Museum, Singapore.

I’ve just begun learning photography and the photos are all mine – please feel free to share these photos and spread the beauty of Peranakan Culture.

jm

April 2011

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