The Peranakan Museum in Singapore is the world’s largest museum dedicated to the colourful and distinctive culture of the Peranakans. Through ten themed galleries, visitors can explore various aspects of the Peranakan culture, such as wedding and religion.

Peranakan Museum in Singapore

(I really like this sculpture of a little girl pulling her Daddy towards the main entrance of the museum. Yes, this is also the place where I found the cute cat sculpture!)

Portraits of Peranakans

It is a good idea to start touring the museum from the ground floor gallery. Here, you would learn about the origins of the Peranakans as larger-than-life-sized portraits of Peranakans surround you.

So who are the Peranakans? When merchants and travellers came to Southeast Asia centuries ago, many settled down here and started families with the locals. Their descendants are the Peranakans, who developed a new hybrid culture with Chinese, Malay, Indian and European influences.

Once you are better acquainted with the origins of the Peranakans, advance to the second floor. Four galleries occupy this entire level, with a focus on the 12-day traditional Peranakan wedding. This was an elaborate affair that started from the time the bride left her parents’ home to when she moved in with her new in-laws.

Wedding chamber of Peranakan newlyweds

In this display of a wedding chamber, the antique ranjan kahwain (wedding bed) is decorated with ornate carvings of fertility symbols, intricate embroidery and colourful tassels.

Here’s one customary tradition that I find particularly interesting. Before the wedding, a young boy from a family with many sons would be asked to roll across the bed three or four times. It was believed that this way, his “male energy” would increase the new bride’s chances of having baby boys.

Pagoda trays

Such multi-tiered gold pagoda trays are unique pieces used in the gift-exchanging practice between families of the bride and groom, a significant ritual during the wedding.

Photo by Soo Ching

Nonyas (Chinese Peranakan women) are well-known for their skillfulness in embroidery and beadwork. A Nonya bride was often judged on her needlework before she was fully accepted by her new family. This is why from a young age, Nonyas had to devote long hours to perfecting their techniques.

At the museum, a whole section has been dedicated to these intricate crafts. On display are beadwork slippers, beadwork slipcases, beadwork tablecloths, beadwork vases and more!

Beadwork wedding purse with deer and dragon motifs

This colourful beadwork wedding purse features deer and dragon motifs. Not only are the glass beads minuscule (typically imported from Europe), thousands of them have been painstakingly threaded together to create the densely beaded design. It would have taken a Peranakan woman of exceptional skill, not to mention time and effort, to make this purse!

World's first beaded stamp, issued to celebrate the opening of the Peranakan Museum

To celebrate the opening of the Peranakan Museum, SingPost (Singapore’s designated provider of domestic and international postal services) has issued the world’s first beaded stamp based on this very purse, featuring caviar beads that are hand-pasted. How exquisite! It makes a really pretty souvenir, don’t you think?

Sarong kebaya worn by Nonyas, the Chinese Peranakan women

And here’s the famous sarong kebaya! This still remains the attire of choice for Nonyas today. Made from an assortment of batik, embroidery, beadwork, silk, satin and organdy, these long-sleeved blouses are the result of a blend of various cultural influences.

Sarong kebaya worn by Nonyas, the Chinese Peranakan women

Over the years, the silhouette of the sarong kebaya has changed from being loose-fitting to one that better accentuates the womanly figure. The most famous kebaya is probably the one worn by the SIA flight stewardesses!


As an affluent community, the Peranakans certainly spared no expense in acquiring such ornate gold jewellery! These gold tangkal (amulets) were more than just ornamental; they also served to protect the wearer from evil forces and malicious spirits.

Look closely and you would notice that a few of these are in the shape of the bagua (octagon). The bagua is a significant daoist symbol that represents balance between positive and negative cosmic forces. Word has it that this is also why the Singapore $1 coins bear the same shape. But let’s leave that story for another day, shall we?

Deities on door

Moving on to my most favourite part of the museum – the Religious Gallery. Traditionally Peranakans embraced a mixture of religious beliefs from China, such as Daoism, Buddhism, ancestral and spiritual worship. As they interacted with the British colonial rulers, many converted to Catholicism.

Catholic altar

Judging from the carvings on the frame, this large piece of ornate furniture was originally a Daoist altar. When the owners converted to Catholicism, it was reused as a catholic altar with the addition of a central catholic devotional image of the Holy Family.

New Testament in Baba Malay, the Peranakan language

What you see here is the new testament in the Peranakan language of Baba Malay. Despite its long history – it was published in Singapore in 1913 – what really intrigues me is the next exhibit.

Mother-of-pearl inlaid crucifix

This ornamented mid-size crucifix is undoubtedly one of the museum’s rarest artifacts, if not the rarest. Crafted out of rosewood with mother-of-pearl inlays, it holds a sacred relic of the true cross. Yes, that’s the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Fragments of the cross were distributed after it was found in the early 4th century, one of which is now contained in this crucifix.

Within this same gallery at the end of a dark corridor, you should notice a mirror on which a rather unsettling large red X is taped. You may wish to turn away, for this leads to a gloomy room decked out like a Peranakan funeral wake. There’s even a real coffin decorated with a colourful embroidered cover, complete with background sounds of mourners.

“The coffin is actually not empty, we’ve put some wood inside, because our belief is that a coffin cannot be left empty or it calls for someone,” says Randall Ee, a curator at the museum.

Ahem, that’s a little too creepy for me! Now, how about something a little less gloomy?

Kamcheng, covered food containers

These colourful containers are kamchengs (covered containers used for storing food, drinking water and desserts), the most recognised form of Nonyaware. While Chinese utensils tend to be plainly decorated with pale colours, Nonyaware is distinguished by their vivid enameled tints on a brilliantly-coloured background, with auspicious phoenix and peony motifs.

“The Chinese wanted to appreciate the whiteness on their porcelains because it tells you of the quality of the firing, but the Peranakans appreciated the colour and the form – not so much the porcelain – so their porcelain is completely covered with colour,” Ee explained.

Kamcheng, covered food containers

Kamchengs of this size were very rare and could only be afforded by the wealthiest Peranakan families. Notice how the lid is topped with a finial in the shape of a qilin (a Chinese mythical animal)? I find this detail very cute!

So far we have seen many treasured antiques of the Peranakans. But there are also modern exhibits such as contemporary paintings. Kenson Kwok, the museum director says, “We don’t want the museum to be seen just as a celebration of the past. It is also a record of the present, and we have tried to look at the taste of the Peranakan and re-interpret it in a contemporary way.”

Adoring the Phoenix, a pair of acrylic paintings

Adoring the Phoenix is a pair of acrylic paintings done by local artist Desmond Sim in 2007. Set on oval-shaped canvases, the artist has chosen to paint this in the rich, vivid colours favoured by the Peranakans. Once again, there’s the peony and the phoenix, two recurring elements in Peranakan arts.

Junk to Jewels exhibition

A temporary exhibition titled “Junk to Jewels” showcases personal items on loan from several Peranakan families. Exhibits include toys, kueh ku (a type of Peranakan cake) moulds, recipe books, beadwork items, wedding shoes from the 1900s and jewellery.

Intricate necklace

Each exhibit comes complete with its own personal story, allowing us to better relate to the objects and understand the lives of the Peranakans.

Intricate brooch

The gold jewellery are characterised by their finely-detailed patterns, as seen in this gold brooch.

Sarong kebaya & bridal wedding garment worn by Nonyas, the Chinese Peranakan women

The beautiful sarong kebaya in a combination of purple and green. On the right is the traditional wedding garment made of heavily embroidered silk worn by the Nonya brides. It is adorned with pairs of phoenixes and peonies.

Zag-Zaw picture puzzle

As a fan of jigsaw puzzles, I find the unusual Zag-Zaw picture puzzle particularly intriguing. The pieces are hand-cut into irregular shapes, much unlike modern puzzles. To top it all, the puzzle do not come with any guide or illustration, making it extremely difficult to assemble. From the little story, it seems that no one in the family has managed to put the pieces together. I wonder if we can still find this anywhere today? I would love to give it a go!

Peranakan Museum in Singapore

So, are you ready to immerse yourself in the colourful world of the Peranakans? Take a trip to this vibrant museum. There are simply so many beautiful aspects of this vibrant ethnic culture, so many discoveries to make, you will be enchanted in no time.

Peranakan Museum
39 Armenian Street
Singapore 179941
Tel: +65 6332 7591 | Website

Opening hours:
Mon: 1-7pm
Tue to Sun: 9am – 7pm (to 9 pm on Fridays)

Admission: $6 per adult, $3 per full-time student and National Serviceman