The Straits Chinese - also known as Peranakan Chinese - is an ethnic group whose ancestors were immigrants to modern-day Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Unlike the so-called "Totok" Chinese who also immigrated to, but were often born outside the region, the Straits Chinese assimilated to the language and culture of the indigenous local population of Malay, Javanese, etc. while retaining many of their ethnic and religious beliefs. Generally speaking, they were a wealthy, artistic sub-culture that combined the aesthetics of the Chinese, Malay and sometimes European culture into their own. Straits Chinese women took to wearing the Malay/Javanese batik sarong and "kain lepas" ("jarit") and adapted them to their taste by creating colorful and occasionally masterful textiles in their own workshops which were mostly located along the north coast of Java in towns such as Cirebon, Pekalongan and Lasem. Those same enterprises exported their batiks to the entire region and wearing batik eventually became the customary mode of dress for Straits Chinese and even some local Indian ladies in Singapore, Malacca and Penang as well as throughout Indonesian archipelago. Marriageable girls also fashioned fastidiously-made bead-work slippers, belts, purses etc. out of tiny faceted beads ("manik potong") from Europe. Moreover, Straits Chinese women had a special fondness for exquisite jewelry of gold, silver and diamonds which they designed and commissioned from local Chinese or Sinhalese craftsmen. Furthermore, many ladies acquired a taste for the local custom of chewing betel nut and thus regularly patronized silver and goldsmiths to order fine, precious-metal implements and containers for this purpose. Their wooden objects, basketry and utensils are also uniquely designed and of highly skilled worksmanship. The East Asia Museum contains an extensive array of Straits Chinese artifacts that were mostly collected in Java, Sumatra and Riau. Slight differences in style are often evident when comparing such pieces to similar objects made in the Straits Settlements of Malaya and Singapore. We will be exhibiting more pieces from these latter regions as time goes by.
     A Straits Chinese family

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