Peranakan Museum Reopens: Here’s what you can experience

Singapore is a cauldron of cultures, and the Peranakan is one of the most famous ones you can find in the country. The community — consisting of people with mixed Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage — features an eclectic array of decor, fashion styles, and crafts. And of course, we can’t forget about the cuisine as well. Indeed, there is much about the culture to explore, and there is no better time to do so than with the recent reopening of the Peranakan Museum!

The Peranakan Museum has been closed since 2019 to allow for renovations. Now, the long wait is over as the museum has recently opened its doors on 17 February 2023 for the public to visit. The new museum has been fully refurbished with a fresh design and features all-new permanent galleries containing important artefacts from Peranakan culture.

With over 800 objects on display and nine galleries to explore, the museum aims to present the Peranakan identity through three grand themes: “Origins”, “Home”, and “Style”. Let’s take a look at what you can find for each of them.


Peranakan Museum: Origins gallery
Level one features the Origins gallery

Located on the museum’s first level is the Origins gallery, which focuses on the diverse origins and evolution of Peranakan communities. The floor is home to many visual displays like hand-coloured photographs and photo walls, all showcasing snapshots of the lives of past and present-day Peranakans. 

One of them is a hand-painted portrait of Lie Pa-toe Nio, a member of a prominent Chinese Peranakan family in Batavia. Here, you get a glimpse into her status, showcased through the elaborate embroidery of her clothes. Another is of the Aljunied family, with Sharifah Alwiyah Aljunied and her daughters posing for a family portrait.

Peranakan Museum: Sharifah Alwiyah Aljunied and her daughters
A family portrait of Sharifah Alwiyah Aljunied and her daughters

“Origins” offers a look at the richness and diversity of the Peranakan cultural heritage as visitors get a peak at what the families looked like before and how the culture has evolved.


Next is the “Home” theme on the second floor, with the galleries dedicated to objects that illustrate the communal life of the Peranakans. It is the largest gallery in the revamped museum, revealing insights into various customs, foods, languages and beliefs.

On food culture, some of the best and rarest examples of Peranakan ‘nyonyaware’ are on display. They range from traditional pieces to contemporary items, with unique designs and elements from different communities. One such highlight that can be found is a Plate with the monogram of Syed Mohamed bin Ahmad Alsagoff a.k.a. Nong Chik (1836 to 1906) — a special 20th-century porcelain dinnerware imported from France.

The tok panjang is another object the Peranakan used as part of their food culture. A traditional long dining table was used for feasts eaten on special occasions. The installation, in particular, belongs to the Kapitan Cina Yap Ah Loy family, who used it for their dinner service. It features 16 types of decorated plates, bowls, and spoons of various sizes; each having a different use on the dining table.

Peranakan Museum: Tok Panjang
The tok panjang dining table on display has been used by the family of Kapitan Cina Yap Ah Loy for special feast occasions

But the galleries contain more than just dinnerware. The living spaces were also decorated with various furnishings, both evocative of the time and culture. For example, a radiogram from the house of Lim Yew Teok (1857 to 1925) is proudly displayed here at the museum. The machine, a combination of a radio and record player, seems to be custom-built and comes housed in a bespoke cabinet.

Meanwhile, residing in the home of tennis and musical pioneer Tan Jin Hoe was an intricately crafted sideboard made out of teakwood. Coming from Malacca in the early 20th century and now housed in the Peranakan Museum, visitors can admire the beautifully etched design on this furniture piece.

Peranakan Museum: Sideboard
This beautifully made sideboard was one piece of furniture found in the home of Tan Jin Hoe

Experiencing the galleries under the “Home” theme elicits a somewhat nostalgic feeling as visitors get to see what life in a Peranakan home was like in the past. 


“Style” is the last theme to explore at the Peranakan Museum and is found on the third floor of the building. As the name suggests, the galleries showcase Peranakan fashion and decorative textiles unique to the culture.

Over 130 objects are on display here at this level, dedicated to a variety of fashion items from Peranakan culture. The iconic sarong kebaya is one standout from the gallery, with each different piece showcasing uniquely beautiful designs and motifs.

Beyond the sarong kebaya, other types of fashionwear are also featured in the galleries, such as the batik cheongsam worn by the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, wife of Lee Kuan Yew. Did you know that she was of Peranakan heritage as well? Neither did I! 

Her batik cheongsam combines the design of the Shanghainese-created cheongsam with batik fabric from the Malay-Indonesian world, creating a look that suited her persona as a working woman and wife of the founding Prime Minister.

Peranakan Museum: Batik Cheongsam
Madam Kwa Geok Choo’s batik cheongsam expertly blended the traditional style with a formal look

There’s also menswear, footwear, bags and accessories on show. If you’re a fan of the popular 2008 Channel 8 drama The Little Nyonya, you can check out the slippers worn by Jeanette Aw’s deaf-mute main character Huang Ju Xiang, made using cotton and glass beads. 

There are also 180 pieces of jewellery displayed, like the elegant hairpin worn by Patmah Binte Abdullah Bamadhaj, which dates back from the late 19th or early 20th century and is made with gold and encrusted with diamonds.

Peranakan Museum: Hairpin (cucuk sanggul)
The gold hairpin of Patmah Binte Abdullah Bamadhaj still exudes class today

Altogether, the “Style” theme galleries reflect how diverse Peranakan fashion can be, with other cultures influencing and evolving the style over the years. 

Other contemporary works

Also at the Peranakan Museum, visitors can find two commissioned artworks from contemporary artists Sam Lo and Lavender Chang.

Sam Lo’s art installation, Coming Home, is hung at the museum’s central airwell and serves to welcome and celebrate the lives of generations of Peranakans. It is inspired by the tension between tradition and modernity in Peranakan culture and aims to evoke feelings of pride and unity in the community.

Peranakan Museum: Coming Home (contemporary commission by Sam Lo)
Sam Lo’s Coming Home presents itself as a homecoming installation for all Peranakans

Meanwhile, Lavender Chang’s Sheltered Dreams is found on level two. Featuring portraits of living rooms in HDB homes, it showcases the passage of time and everyday life while captured at the heart of the home.

So what are you excited to see? Perhaps the gorgeous jewelled heirlooms or the unique furniture items from past Peranakan homes? Let us know on our social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok!

The Peranakan Museum

Location: 39 Armenian Street, Singapore 179941
Price: Free admission for Singaporeans & PRs
Opening hours: 10am to 7pm (Sunday to Thursday), 10am to 9pm (Friday)

Ticket purchasing and additional information can be found on the official page of The Peranakan Museum.

Visuals courtesy of Asian Civilisations Museum.

Russell Matthew Loh

Watcher of films and player of games. Dabble with writing in between.

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