Peranakan - Terminology


Both Malay and Indonesian use the word Peranakan to mean "descendant" - with no connotation of the ethnicity of descent unless followed by a subsequent qualifying noun, such as for example Cina (Chinese), Belanda (Dutch) or Jepang/Jepun (Japanese). Peranakan has the implied connotation of referring to the ancestry of great-grandparents or of more-distant ancestors.

Baba, a Persian loan-word borrowed by Malay speakers as an honorific solely for grandparents, referred to the Straits-Chinese males. The term originated with Hindustani speakers, such as vendors and traders, and became part of common vernacular. Female Straits-Chinese descendants were either called or styled themselves Nyonyas. The word nyonya (also commonly misspelled nonya) is a Javanese loan honorific word from Italian nona (grandma) meaning: foreign married Madam. Or more likely from the word Donha, from the Portuguese word for lady. Because Javanese at the time had a tendency to address all foreign women (and perhaps those who appeared foreign) as nyonya, they used that term for Straits-Chinese women, too, and it gradually became associated more exclusively with them. Nona in Javanese means "lady".

Straits-Chinese were defined as those born or living in the Straits Settlements: a British colonial construct of Penang, Malacca and Singapore constituted in 1826. Straits Chinese were not considered Baba Nyonya unless they displayed certain Sino-Malay syncretic physical attributes.

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