“Chetti Melaka of the Straits: Rediscovering Peranakan Indian Communities”-Exhibition at Singapore Heritage Centre


Singapore: “Chetti Melaka of the Straits: Rediscovering Peranakan Indian Communities”, an exhibition of the “Chetti Melaka” community was inaugurated by President Madam Halimah Yacob at Indian Heritage Centre today. It was launched as a part of “Indian Heritage Centre CultureFest 2018, which will last for two-weekends. This is also the first community co-created exhibition hoisted by Indian Heritage Centre. Mr Baey Yam Keng (Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth), Ambassador Gopinath Pillai (Chairman, IHC Advisory Board), . Ms Yeoh Chee Yan (Chairman, National Heritage Board), Ms Chang Hwee Nee (CEO, National Heritage Board), Ms Trudy Loh (Director, Heritage Institutions, National Heritage Board), Mr Ponnosamy Kalastree (President, Peranakan Indian (Chitty Melaka) Association Singapore) and Mr Javed Ashraf (Indian High Commissioner in Singapore) also were present during the inauguration ceremony.

The “Chetti Melaka” is a small but significant community of early migrants who have made Singapore their home. They are descendants of Tamil traders who first settled in Melaka during the reign of the Melaka Sultanate in the 15th to 16th centuries, and married local women of Malay and Chinese descent. Today, While they largely retain their Tamil Hindu traditions, the Chetti Melaka have also embraced practices from the Chinese and Malay communities, resulting in a unique fusion of cultures.

“Chetti Melaka” community with an approximate population of 5000, is with a unique multiculturalism through a rich blend of Indian, Malay and Chinese influences. They are also known as “Peranakan Indians” who speak a language, “Chetti Creole”, which combines Tamil, Malay, and Chinese dialects. They wear traditional outfits that reflect Javanese, Bugis, Acehnese, Batak and Tamil fashions. They have a cuisine which is a mixture of Indian, Malay, and Peranakan Chinese culinary styles.

All of their unique rich heritage will be on display at the exhibition including photographs, documents, clothes, jewellery, cooking implements and other accessories. Complementing the historical artefacts, a special Documentary film by Director K Rajagopal, “Who are the Chetti Melaka? In search of the Lost”, also will be screened at the exhibition venue. The exhibition will also feature Potret Potret, an installation of paintings on batik fabric by Nadiah Alsagoff. The works examine the themes of hybridity and identity, and by juxtaposing current members of Singapore’s Chetti Melaka community with their ancestors, reveal the diverse influences that make up their culture.

The inaugural function was opened with a musical performance titled “Birth of a Chetti Melaka” presented by members of the Chetty Melaka Association Singapore. The musical drama showed the theatrical re-telling of the community’s story, which included a combined choir featuring members of the Chetti Melaka community, as well as other Peranakan communities and a Joget performance.