From as early as the 16th Century, when migrants travelled from their home country to Malaya, some began to adopt the local culture and inter-married with the locals. Indeed, there are many tales that attempt to trace the origins and identity of this unique hybrid culture termed Peranakan.

Some folklores suggest that Peranakan roots in Malaya began with a princess from China who married a local prince. Historically however the term Peranakan was used to refer to a number of different ethnic and cultural groups in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. The root word for Peranakan comes from the Malay and Indonesian word ‘anak’, or child, referring to locally born descendants.

Besides the Straits Chinese Peranakans, there are also the Peranakan Jawi, Peranakan Dutch, Peranakan Serani and Peranakan Chitty.

The beginnings of the Peranakan-Chinese in South East Asia date back to the 12th Century.  Many Southern Chinese merchants had actively engaged in trade more than 2000 years ago, but the first permanent settlements in cities on the isle of Java and the Malay Peninsula were not established until the 13th Century.

This identity within the Chinese community began to form when Chinese traders intermarried with local women and adopted South East Asian social practices and the local language. The Peranakan Chinese have picked up many nicknames over the years: from being honored as ‘the Kings Chinese’ during colonial times, to more recent times being called orang cina bukan cina (Chinese people who are not Chinese), they have indeed garnered quite a reputation!

The term Baba is an honorific term for a Peranakan male. Strictly speaking a Peranakan-Chinese Baba is a descendant of a Chinese who has had long residence in the Straits, as opposed to the local-born children of nineteenth century Chinese immigrants. Nyonya is term given to a Peranakan female.