Since centuries, Chinese traders from the southern provinces in China migrated to the Indonesian archipelago. Part of them married local women, started a family and never went back. Descendants of these mixed marriages are called Peranakan Chinese, a term derived from the word anak, Malay for child. A subculture emerged in which Chinese traditions blended with those from the Indonesian archipelago.
Through the import of goods, the ongoing immigration from China, and marriages of Chinese men with Indonesian women, both traditions interacted. Chinese craftsmen, such as gold- and silversmiths, carpenters and lacquer workers, introduced new techniques and motives in Indonesian applied arts.
In addition, the custom of betel chewing, common throughout Indonesia, was often adopted by Peranakan Chinese. Betel sets, with several containers for the ingredients of the betel quid, were Indonesian in form, but were decorated with Chinese motifs. The same applies for gold and silver jewellery.
Peranakan Chinese more often spoke the tongue of their new homeland. On Java, Peranakan women wore sarung and kebaya, decorated with a combination of Chinese embroidery and Javanese batik patterns. Bright colors and motifs such as butterflies and chrysanthemums were inspired by Chinese traditions.
Between 1860 and 1925, a mass migration from China took place. In this period, mainly contract workers found their ways to Indonesia. From the beginning of the 19th century, Chinese women were allowed to migrate, which made the number of mixed marriages decrease. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the upper class of the Chinese population in Indonesia started to adopt the way of life of the urban elite in the Netherlands East Indies. Their children received a Dutch education, and, if possible, were sent to university in The Netherlands. After the Indonesian independence and after the fall of president Soekarno in 1966 some of the Chinese migrated to The Netherlands, to start a new life.
A wedding ceremony was in the traditional Chinese Indonesian community considered to be one of the most important rituals in human life. It guaranteed the continuation of the family name and offspring, taking care of the ancestral altar. One was supposed to marry within one’s own social class.
Mantle of a bridal costume (1895/1905)Original Source: Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
Kan family treasures
costume was worn by Han Tek Nio at her wedding in 1901. Her grandson, Mr. S.Y. Kan, donated the costume together with a variety of Peranakan items to the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen. It was the centrepiece of an exhibition in Museum Volkenkunde Leiden, in 2015-2016. See also the family website http://www.kanhantan.nl/index.html
Until around 1920 most couples would choose a traditional Chinese wedding costume, resembling the official wardrobe of the Chinese imperial court, to get married. This was in line with the Indonesian tradition of considering the wedding couple king and queen for one day (raja sehari). After 1919 Chinese marriages in the Netherlands Indies had to comply with Dutch law. It became more common to marry in a white wedding dress and a European suit.
Until the 20th century, marriages were arranged within the Peranakan community. Parents would look in their social network for a suitable marriage candidate for their son or daughter, or they would call upon a matchmaker. Later on one would choose their own partner, although one would ask approval from the parents / after the parents granted their approval.
When both families agreed on the marriage, the family of the boy would pay a formal visit to the family of the girl, bringing several gifts and dishes. In return, the family of the bride would give clothes amongst other things for the groom. Then the Chinese calendar would be consulted to choose an auspicious date for the wedding.
Compilation — Johanna Leijfeldt and Richard van Alphen
Texts — Johanna Leijfeldt
Photography: Irene de Groot.
Sources — This virtual exhibit is based on the exhibition “Connecting cultures: Chinese from Indonesia in the Netherlands” that was on display in Museum Volkenkunde in 2015-2016. Original texts by Francine Brinkgreve and Johanna Leijfeldt.
The exhibition was made possible thanks to a fund, established by Mr. Sioe Yao Kan. He also donated a considerable amount of objects from his family collection to the museum.
See also: http://wacana.ui.ac.id/index.php/wjhi/article/view/586/pdf_27