Showcase of the other Peranakan community

Peranakan Indian (Chitty Melaka) Association Singapore members (from left) Ponnosamy Kalastree, Sanasee Philips Roy and David Bok contributed stories of their family histories and lent artefacts and photographs to the exhibition.
Peranakan Indian (Chitty Melaka) Association Singapore members (from left) Ponnosamy Kalastree, Sanasee Philips Roy and David Bok contributed stories of their family histories and lent artefacts and photographs to the exhibition.PHOTOS: GIN TAY FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
A pair of miniature hantu tetek figurines is among 175 artefacts and photographs on show at the exhibition, which runs till next year.
A pair of miniature hantu tetek figurines is among 175 artefacts and photographs on show at the exhibition, which runs till next year.

Exhibition on Chetti Melakans opens at Indian Heritage Centre

They offer food to the dead like in Chinese ancestral worship, but they practise mainly Hinduism.

They speak a creole that is largely based on bazaar Malay but also has elements of Tamil and the Hokkien dialect.

For instance, the term for grandmother is nenek (Malay), grandfather is thatha (Tamil) and uncle is mama (Tamil). They also feature the hantu tetek - a voluptuous female ghost from regional folklore - for their annual Hindu procession. They believe the hantu tetek crushes evil with her giant breasts.

The Chetti Melakans, who originated from Melaka, have a diverse and colourful culture that has been largely undocumented and "lost" for decades.

But an exhibition which opens today at the Indian Heritage Centre showcases the different facets of the community.

Chetti Melaka of the Straits: Rediscovering Peranakan Indian Communities features some 175 artefacts and photographs. Most of the items have never been exhibited before and are on loan from the Chetti Melakan community here.

They include a pair of miniature hantu tetek figurines, documents and portraits of the community's pioneers, jewellery and everyday household items.

The Chetti Melakans, who originated from Melaka, have a diverse and colourful culture that has been largely undocumented and "lost" for decades.

The Chetti Melakans form a small but significant community of early migrants who have made Singapore their home over the years. They moved here because of job opportunities during the colonial era. Their ancestors were Tamil traders who first settled in Melaka in the 15th to 16th centuries and married local women of Malay and Chinese descents. In Singapore, there are around 5,000 Chetti Melakans.

Mr Ponno Kalastree, 69, president of the Peranakan Indian (Chitty Melaka) Association Singapore, said it is important to safeguard the community's legacy and pass it on to future generations. "We hope that through this exhibition, we can help generations of Chetti Melakans to reconnect with their roots, and also share our very special heritage with others," he said.

The exhibits also include the community's traditional attire. The outfit for men typically includes headgear that looks like a Malay songkok with a triangular tip in front. Women usually wear sarong kebayas and sometimes add a vermilion mark above the forehead if they are Hindu and married.

There will be a short film tracing the journeys of two young Chetti Melakans who rediscover their roots. Visitors can also take home print outs of Chetti Melakan recipes.

Curator Nalina Gopal, 34, said the community here started actively documenting their history only in the late 2000s following the launch of the book, Peranakan Indians Of Singapore And Melaka: Indian Babas And Nonyas - Chitty Melaka, by historian Samuel S. Dhoraisingam.

She said: "Unlike Melaka, which is home to Kampung Chetti, Singapore does not have a tangible place associated with the community. Music, pantuns (Malay poems), games and recipes have been lost over time. We met with members of the community in Kampung Chetti and walked through the kampung.

"We also worked with Singaporeans in the community to put together the exhibition as we recognise the importance of documenting this heritage."

The exhibition will run till May 5 next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2018, with the headline 'Showcase of the other Peranakan community'. Print Edition | Subscribe