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Museum Musings: Apa Khabair? – Peranakan Museum in the making at the Asian Civilisations Museum

In collaboration with local Peranakan communities, ACM presents a special throwback to the Peranakan Museum’s past and snippets of Peranakan art and culture with Apa Khabair? – Peranakan Museum in the Making, a pop-up exhibition held at ACM’s Contemporary Gallery. The display represents the museum’s commitment to working with the diverse Peranakan communities to broaden the public’s understanding of this vibrant living culture. It also provides visitors a teaser of what to expect when the much-anticipated reopening of the Peranakan Museum happens in the first half of 2023. 

In the pop-up display, visitors to Apa Khabair? can discover the worlds of the Peranakan communities in three sections: Immerse in community collaborations on display; take a walk down memory lane with the historical timeline that starts with the Tao Nan School building to trace its transformation into the Peranakan Museum; and encounter a selection of some 17 objects depicting the Peranakan way of life, some of them on display for the first time.

Kennie Ting, Director of ACM and the Peranakan Museum, explains, “The Peranakan Museum will re-open in the first half of 2023. As a department of ACM, it will explore the cross-cultural art and material culture of Peranakan communities in Southeast Asian port cities. Through this pop-up exhibition, we celebrate the museum and give visitors a sneak preview of what is to come. COVID-19 had delayed the museum’s opening, so we also felt like we wanted to remind the public – especially those who miss us! – that we are still here and working hard. The exhibition title is borrowed from the familiar Baba Malay greeting Apa Khabair?, meaning “What news is there?”, and speaks to the reopening of the Peranakan Museum as something to look forward to during these difficult times. So come on down to ACM to joget with us and to explore the rich material and intangible cultural heritage of our Peranakan communities.”

till from the “I Say You Do” video series that premiered on Peranakan Museum’s Facebook Page. The collaborative series features different Peranakan culture maestros sharing their knowledge and reinforcing the tradition of the spoken word, where recipes, cultural practices, and more are passed down through word of mouth, emulating oral tradition.

Apa Khabair? brings to the fore collaborative efforts and deep ties between ACM, the Peranakan Museum, and the wider Peranakan community. Drawn from campaigns that have been featured on the Peranakan Museum’s social media platforms, the exhibition brings the virtual into a physical space, foregrounds our community partners, and provides insights into these living communities and cultures.

Excerpts from “Recipes & Stories”, an ongoing digital cookbook series that can be found on the Peranakan Museum’s Instagram. The tantalising series spotlights food heritage through personal recipes and stories from members of the various Peranakan communities, through photos and illustrations of flavourful recipes from everyday Peranakans.

Whether it’s watching Mrs Sushila Philips Roy, an expert from the Peranakan Indian (Chitty Melaka) Association Singapore, guide a guest student in making her first kopiah (a traditional Peranakan headgear), or learning how to make hae bee hiam (spicy dried shrimp sambal) from the National Heritage Board Intangible Cultural Heritage Steward 2020, Baba GT Lye, the I Say You Do and Recipes & Stories series highlight the significance of living traditions, spanning Arab Peranakan, Jawi Peranakan, Peranakan Indian, and Chinese Peranakan cultures.

This carriage was likely used in central Java in a traditional ceremony called Tedun, where a child selects objects which will symbolically predict their future personality and interests. Its shape is reminiscent of European horse-drawn carriages and its surface is carved, gilded, and lacquered with motifs inspired by Javanese and Chinese cultures. Gift of Dr Boedi Mranata, Jakarta, 2017-00581

Some 17 Peranakan treasures depicting the Peranakan way of life will be on display, including delicate porcelain vessels, finely crafted heirlooms, and works of art. Objects of note include a ceremonial carriage, and two sireh sets, all three of which are on show for the first time.

Sireh chewing was once a time-honoured tradition and sireh sets were a mainstay in Peranakan homes. Apart from housing the ingredients and tools used for sireh chewing, these sets also played an important role in wedding ceremonies as they symbolised the bride’s virtue. This object belonged to Wee Bee Neo, a prominent Sang Khek Umm (mistress of the wedding ceremony). Gift of Cynthia, Larry, Celia, Carol and Lawrence Chia, in memory of their parents Chia Teck Loke and Ong Siew Choo, 2018-01289

These objects possess the intricacy and maximalism of decorative beauty that have become quintessential elements of the Peranakan aesthetic. They show the craftsmanship and rich diversity of material culture embraced by the Peranakan culture; sophisticated details show cultural adaptations and connections to the Malay World, China, the West, and more. 

Recipes and Stories Digital Cookbook by Aunty Kamala

Apa Khabair? celebrates 14 years of the Peranakan Museum with a timeline of its colourful history. The timeline guides visitors through the evolution of the building on Armenian Street, as it originated as the Tao Nan primary school, then changed to the first site of ACM, then into the Peranakan Museum we know today. The timeline highlights the many exhibitions shown at the Peranakan Museum, including popular exhibitions like Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World, and the museum’s first travelling exhibition, Baba Bling: The Peranakans and their Jewellery, held at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris.

Ahead of the Peranakan Museum’s reopening in 2023, this timeline serves as a teaser to keep the museum in all our minds. Visitors can look forward to the Peranakan Museum’s return, dedicated to the rich culture of our Peranakan communities here in Singapore and the region. As they leave the exhibition, visitors will be invited to share their stories and thoughts via an interactive wall display, which will be added to a compilation of personal stories, comments, and thoughts of all things Peranakan.  

ACM Adventures: Peranakan Parade

Also available are a myriad of programmes and activities at ACM, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in multiple facets of our lively Peranakan culture, such as tours led by community members sharing their own experiences of being Peranakan, workshops, demonstrations, and digital content. Families will also be able to enjoy the exhibition with their little ones using a specially created family guide. 

Photo Credit: Asian Civilisations Museum

Apa Khabair? – Peranakan Museum in the Making will run from 25th February to 29th May 2022 at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Entry is free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents. For more information, visit

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