When we think of the Peranakans, most of us will probably think of the Straits Chinese and their unique heritage, culture, and food.
But Peranakans are actually more than just the Straits Chinese, even though they have become the predominantly associated group under that community.
The word "Peranakan" in Malay means "locally born", which is essentially a generic term used to describe a group of people without ascribing any particular ethnicity to them.
Not all Peranakans have Chinese ancestry. Some are of Indian or South Asian descent. And a small but significant group of them are known as the Chetti (sometimes spelled as "Chitty") Melakans.
This community is descended from South Indian Tamil merchants who settled in our region during the 14th and 15th centuries, when the Malacca Sultanate was in power.
Just like the ancestors of their Straits Chinese counterparts, the early Tamil merchants married local women, who included Malays and Straits-born Chinese, when they settled down in the region.
Their resulting offspring became known as Chetti Melakans. "Chetti" is derived from the Tamil word for "merchant", and "Chetti Melakan" roughly means "Malaccan merchant".
Like the Straits Chinese, the Chetti Melakans have a unique hybrid culture and identity that is a confluence of both South India/ Asia and our region.
This blend of cultures can be found in their clothes, such as the Chetti Melakan headgear known as the "talapa" (meaning "headgear" in Tamil), which is made of batik cloth.The community comprises mostly of Hindus, but there are also some Christians and Muslims among them.
Chetti Melakans in Singapore
After Singapore's modern founding by Stamford Raffles in 1819, some Chetti Melakans moved to Singapore, where they settled in the Serangoon area that would become Little India.
There is still a small community of them in Singapore today. In fact, they have an association called the Association of Chetti Melaka (Peranakan Indians) Singapore.
However, the already small number of Chetti Melakans in Singapore is declining.
According to an account by a Singaporean Chetti Melakan named Madam Kamala featured on irememberSG, many in the community have inter-married with the Chinese and assimilated into Chinese culture, which has caused Chetti Melakan customs to disappear over time.
As this lesser known community slowly fade into history, it is therefore important to learn more about their culture and practices that had enriched Singapore's multi-cultural landscape, to better appreciate our rich heritage that we always had.
Top image from Association of Chetti Melaka Singapore Facebook