Written by: Christine Sitambuli
Edited by: Supriya Sivabalan
An orange sun, a blue sky and cool weather; perfect ingredients for a scrumptious day where I had a truly magnificent experience! On the 15th of January 2020, the Sunway University Chinese Independent School Alumni (CISA) graced us with ‘A Nyonya Reunion’ as part of the Chinese New Year Celebrations. There was a fun fair on the 15th, while the opening ceremony fell on the 16th of January. CISA is an association of all students who went to the Chinese Independent School. They have this club in several schools, in order to keep the connection with each other. The event was kicked off by the honoured guests, Mr Teo Ee Sing, Dr Elizabeth Lee and Prof. Pua Eng Chong.
The Nyonya are descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to Malaysia in the 15th Century. It is said that the emperor of China at that time sent a princess (as a token of gratitude) along with 500 male servants, to the sultan of Malacca. They settled in Malacca and started marrying Malaysian ladies there. They then had children who eventually grew and were known as Peranakan Chinese or Baba Nyonya. This reunion means a lot to them because there are not a lot of Nyonya in Malaysia anymore, as people from China are not settling and marrying in Malaysia as much as they used to. A lot of Chinese from mainland China came into Malaysia due to economic hardships back in the day, but that is not the case anymore. Many young people in our current generation do not know a lot about this rich history. Therefore, this event was created to educate about the Nyonya and their way of life. One must note, that it is of high importance to attend such events in order to understand other people better, especially in a multi-cultural country like Malaysia.
To kick off the event, the first performances of the day were from the Sunway University Chinese 24 Festive Drums and the M.O.U band.
One of the key virtues to the Nyonya way of life is patience……………..… Did you feel that gap? Yeah, that was patience! The difference between the patience I just taught you and the ways the Nyonya learn patience is that theirs is fun! Through creating different types of art like paper cutting, blow painting, beading and even calligraphy, they learnt how to be patient and that is something we can learn from them. When the peranakans settled here, they still kept some of their ancestral culture and hence the painting, cutting and calligraphy can be fully identified as Chinese, but they also started embracing local Malaysian culture and developing their own and hence beading is of full Nyonya heritage. They were faced with little resources to buy a lot of the things needed, so they made their own toys, their own games, clothes, furniture and other household items.
Tea is a very important part of their meals as they normally bond over tea. A fun fact about how they make tea is that it has to be at a certain temperature – 85 degrees Celsius – otherwise, it tastes completely different from the way it was supposed to taste. Wow! The diligence in making that tea is admirable. Now you know you’ve been making your tea wrong all these years. You have probably also been drinking it wrong; because the first step is to smell it, then drink it. Talk about mindfulness! In this day of information overload, we need such mindfulness: so try it the next time you drink tea.
Are you on tinder? Hmmm, silence. There’s no need to be ashamed of looking for love, in fact, the early Nyonya people had a fancier way of dating. One would write his or her number on paper, tie it around a rock and throw it in the river, whoever found it knew what to do, if the receiver was single of course! Since none of us finds love by the river these days, (super unromantic by the way) this game has been modernized into one of shooting hoops.
It is a beautiful thing to realize just how different cultures are connected to each other through the simplest of things, like games. This one game, called ‘Congkak’ was played a lot by the Nyonya and it is also played among many different tribes across Africa, and is called ‘nsolo’
The event was wrapped up by the lion dance performance and other colourful performances. All honour and appreciation go to CISA for their hard work in putting this event together and for allowing us to know and share their culture with them during this Chinese New Year.