Peranakan beaded slippers in Penang, Malaysia

Last month, I wrote about Chinese clogs in the state of Penang in Malaysia. This month, I am still staying in Penang, but this time I am writing about a type of footwear called Peranakan beaded slippers. Actually, these slippers are also known by many other names, such as nyonya slippers, ‘kasut manik’ in Malay, or ‘manik aey’ in the Chinese dialect of Hokkien. They may be spelt ‘manik’ or ‘manek’, which means ‘beads’ in Malay. I am calling them Peranakan beaded slippers because in my opinion, this is the most straight forward English term.

Peranakan is a Malay word that comes from the root word ‘anak’, which means ‘child’. Peranakan refers to someone born from the marriage between a native person and a foreigner. Originally, Peranakan was used to refer to the descendants of 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants to the Malay archipelago. But technically, the term Peranakan can refer to anyone born in the Malay archipelago as a result of an intermarriage with a local. These are the countries of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei. Peranakan is still most commonly applied to Chinese people who have assimilated and adopted the Malay language and culture. Peranakan men are known as Baba while the women are called Nyonya. After writing that, I realized that people who are not from the region may have no idea how to pronounce the word ‘nyonya’. The closest I can describe it is that it is pronounced ‘neo-knee-ya’. Just say it really fast.

The Peranakans have a unique culture, a mix of Malay and Chinese, which seems to be slowly disappearing. Their language is a mix of Malay and Chinese. Their cuisine is famous. Known as Peranakan or Nyonya food, it is a fusion of Chinese and Malay cuisine. It existed way before the term ‘fusion food’ became fashionable.

The traditional dress of Peranakan women is the ‘baju kebaya’. If you don’t know what this looks like, female flight attendants on all the major national airlines in the Malay archipelago wear a modern version of the ‘baju kebaya’ as their uniform. These are the female flight attendants on Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Garuda Indonesia and Royal Brunei Airlines.

Shih Yen wears a vintage Nyonya kebaya with hand embroidery on the edges. This kebaya has no buttons, but is pinned with a kerosang.

At her graduation ceremony, Shih Yen wears a vintage Nyonya kebaya with hand embroidery on the edges. This kebaya has no buttons, but is pinned with a kerosang.

Close up of Shih Yen's kerosang or kebaya pin.

Close up of Shih Yen’s kerosang or kebaya brooch.

The traditional ‘baju kebaya’ consists of a sheer blouse with a batik sarong. The traditional kebaya blouse was always beautifully embroidered, especially all around the edges. The traditional kebaya blouse had no buttons. Instead, a 3-piece linked brooch was used to fasten it down the front. This brooch is called a ‘kerosang’ or ‘kerongsang’. There is a type of kebaya called the nyonya kebaya, worn mostly by Peranakan women of Chinese ancestry, especially in the Straits settlements. The Straits settlements are Malacca and Penang in Malaysia, and Singapore.The proper footwear when wearing a nyonya kebaya is Peranakan beaded slippers. There are two styles of Peranakan beaded slippers – covered or peep toe. These beaded slippers are handmade and time consuming to make. A design is first cross stitched onto the slippers, and then beaded over with very tiny glass beads called ‘manik potong’. Traditionally, nyonya women were proud of their cooking, embroidery and beadwork. A nyonya’s wedding day was an opportunity for her to show off her hand embroidery in her baju kebaya, and beadwork in her slippers.

Peranakan communities are found in Penang, Malaysia, so in this post, I will write about where you can buy Peranakan beaded slippers in Penang. One shop that sells these beaded slippers is Eng Ong Heong Trading on the eastern end of Jalan Burma, or Burma Road. I wrote about this shop last month, as it also sells Chinese clogs. This shop sells many things apart from Chinese clogs and Peranakan beaded slippers. This shop also sells Chinese prayer materials and retro things, like kerosene lamps, tiffin carriers and nyonya baskets. Nyonya baskets are tiered baskets, usually in a black and red colour, and are used for carrying food.

nyonya1

Peranakan beaded slippers sold at Eng Ong Heong Trading in Penang. The beaded slippers shown here are all in a peep toe style.

Another shop in Penang that specializes in Peranakan beaded slippers is Hong Kong Shoe Store. Originally located on Muntri Street, it is now on Kimberley Street. This shop is famous also for being the place where famed shoe designer Jimmy Choo started out as an apprentice. Other than Peranakan beaded slippers, this store makes beautiful bespoke shoes. Mr Wong, the shoemaker at Hong Kong Shoe Store, can custom make shoes to any design, and to fit any size or shape. He learned the craft from his father, the late Mr Wong Sam Chai. The prices at this shop are also very reasonable.

Hong Kong Shoe Store, now at Kimberley Street, Penang, Malaysia (Photo by David Lee).

Hong Kong Shoe Store, now at 20 Kimberley Street, Penang, Malaysia (Photo by David Lee).

Advertisements

Peranakan Beaded Slippers

Last month I wrote about the Hong Kong Shoe Store in Penang, Malaysia, where Jimmy Choo was an apprentice. Jimmy Choo cut his teeth making Peranakan beaded slippers as Hong Kong Shoe Store is famous for this type of footwear.

Peranakan is a Malay word that comes from the root word ‘anak’, which means ‘child’. Peranakan means locally born of a marriage between a native person and a foreigner. Originally, this term referred to the descendants of 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants to the Malay archipelago. But Peranakan can refer to anyone born in the archipelago (which includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore) who is the result of an intermarriage with a local. The term Peranakan can apply to descendants of intermarriages between Malays and Indian Hindus, Indian Muslims, Arabs or Eurasians, but it is most commonly used to refer to ethnic Chinese people who have assimilated and adopted the language and culture of Malays. The men are titled Baba while the women are called Nyonya. Their communities are found in the Straits Settlements – Malacca and Penang in Malaysia, and in Singapore.

The Peranakan have a unique hybrid culture which seems to be slowly disappearing. Their language is a mix of Malay and Chinese. Peranakan food is Chinese and Malay fusion, way before the term ‘fusion cuisine’ even existed.

The traditional clothing of Peranakan women is the ‘baju kebaya’. Female flight attendants on Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines and Garuda Indonesia all wear a modern form of the batik baju kebaya. The traditional baju kebaya consists of a sheer top with a batik sarong. The traditional kebaya top or blouse had no buttons. Instead a three-piece linked brooch called a ‘kerongsang’ or ‘kerosang’ are used to fasten the blouse down the front. The traditional kebaya blouse was always beautifully embroidered all around the edges.

Shih Yen wears a vintage Nyonya kebaya with hand embroidery on the edges. This kebaya has no buttons, but is pinned with a kerosang.

Shih Yen wears a vintage Nyonya kebaya with hand embroidery on the edges to her graduation ceremony. This kebaya has no buttons, but is pinned with a kerosang.

Close up of Shih Yen's kerosang or kebaya pin.

Close up of Shih Yen’s kerosang or kebaya pin.

A variety of the kebaya is the Nyonya Kebaya, worn by Peranakan women of Chinese ancestry, especially in the Straits Settlements. Unlike other types of kebaya, the Nyonya Kebaya is worn with Peranakan beaded slippers, also called ‘kasut manek’ or ‘manek aey’. Peranakan beaded slippers are handmade using tiny beads. A design or pattern was usually cross stitched onto the front of the slipper, and then beaded over with beads called ‘manek potong’ or cut beads. This was all done by hand using very tiny, glass beads.

Examples of Peranakan beaded slippers.

Examples of Peranakan beaded slippers.

Peranakan beaded slippers can be in a peep-toe or covered style. They can be worn for happy or sad occasions. On sad occasions, the slippers had a simple pattern in sombre coloured beads like black, white or dark blue. For special occasions such as birthdays and weddings, the slippers were colourful and more intricate. In the past, it was the custom for young nyonyas to learn beadwork and embroidery. On her wedding day, it was an opportunity for the nyonya to show off her intricate beadwork in her own handmade beaded slippers, and to display her hand embroidered baju kebaya. These slippers were most popular in the 1930s.

In the past, Peranakan beaded slippers were worn by both men and women, but these days they are mainly worn by women.

Peranakan wedding slippers, not for the bride, but for the bridegroom. This pair of beaded slippers was worn by Lim Kim San on his wedding in Singapore in 1939. In the background is a photo of a Peranakan wedding from that period.

Peranakan wedding slippers, not for the bride, but for the bridegroom. This pair of beaded slippers was worn by Lim Kim San on his wedding in Singapore in 1939. In the background is a photo of a Peranakan wedding from that period.