In the heart of the heritage district of Melaka, on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, is the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum.
Baba is an honorific for a Straits-born man and Nyonya means a Straits-born woman. Baba-Nyonya are the descendants of Chinese men and Malay women and have a distinct culture of their own (Peranakan).
You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house (only in the entrance) and you have to be shown around on a guided tour, which cost 16 MYR for an adult (around £3) and 11 MYR for a child. (Prices true of November 2017)
I managed to attach myself to a school party of 11-year-olds. They were good company and were particularly amused by the marriage rituals, to the despair of the tour guide, who was obviously accustomed to a more mature audience!
The house is actually the combination of three terraces that were acquired by the Chan family in 1861. The museum is managed by descendants of the Chan family and has been beautifully preserved. It is an excellent example of the traditional homes in the heritage district and gives a great insight into the opulent lifestyle of the Peranakan community at the turn of the 19th century.
A narrow frontage belies a deep interior, which stretches back as far as Jonker Street. It is filled with artefacts that combine Chinese, Malay, Dutch and British cultures (the dinner service and some of the furniture were from Victorian England for example). The tapestries and the staircase embossed with gold leaf are particularly spectacular and the kitchen area is fascinating. Be prepared to take your shoes off to go upstairs.
Within the museum, you can find out about traditional marriage and funeral customs. There are examples of wedding outfits and the lanterns which were hung outside the house to signify a death in the family. There is also an excellent collection of embroidered red scrolls which were given to celebrate birthdays, Chinese New Year and weddings, as red is the colour for good luck in China.
You can even take a peek through the spy hole which gave family members a view from the upstairs of people coming to the door – a precursor of the modern-day intercom!
A small gift shop completes the tour, which takes around an hour, and was well worth the entrance fee.
You can combine your trip with one of the many Nyonya restaurants in the area, serving traditional Peranakan cuisine. For more information about what to expect, check out this article from the Rough Guides website: