One of the best things about traveling is learning about other cultures. I knew that Singapore was made up of Chinese, Indian and Malay (not Malaysian, as I always thought), but I knew little about the Peranakan people until I took a fabulous tour of their heritage museum.
I joined a lovely group of women from Tasmania and we all fawned over the beautiful intricacy of the museum's treasures.
Our tour guide explained the things we were looking at and told us a little about the culture and beliefs. His stories were fantastic. For instance, he told us about this funeral altar. You can just make out the coffin behind the flowered altar, covered in an intricate quilt. This coffin would have been left open for three days while the doctor and the wife of the dead sat beside it, keeping away pregnant cats so that they did not suck out the soul of the deceased. And what would have happened if a cat got past them and did that very thing? The deceased would have turned into a zombie!
But hold on. Let's back up. Before death comes marriage, and there are lots of wedding traditions among the Peranakan. For one thing, the Peranakan women are known for their intricate beadwork and embroidery skills. Traditionally, the bride-to-be would embroider beautiful beaded slippers for her mother-in-law. It made me think about my soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Should I tell her I expect some? Think she has time to whip up a pair while she works on wedding plans? Probably not. I'll let it go.
But wait! Before we can talk about wedding presents and ceremonies, we need to talk about how I would have picked her as a bride for my son if we were Peranakan. What I would value most highly is her cooking abilities. Girls are raised very traditionally and master embroidery and cooking. Then, when they're 16, they're married off to boys aged 19 or 20. But how to choose, how to choose? Oh, here's how. As a mother, I would hang out around the kitchen windows of the girls' houses and listen in to what's going on while she cooks. If her mother is telling her to pay attention, or pots and pans are falling, she may not be "The One."
But once I have chosen the right girl, they will have a beautiful wedding procession.
Then, on their wedding night, they will be presented with two chickens: a hen and a cock. These chickens will have been starved for a day or two and put underneath the wedding couple's bed. Then, the father (Baba) will throw down some rice and the first chicken to emerge will be a prediction of the sex of their firstborn child. Apparently 8 of of 10 times, the fowl are right.
Hhmmm.. I'd been struggling with what to get the wedding couple for a present. Maybe a couple of chickens? If my daughter-in-law beads me some slippers, I'll do this for her in return.