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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lookie here!

MALACCA: The inauguration of the Baba and Nyonya International Con­ven­tion here recently was a huge success with more than 500 delegates from Malaysia and countries around the region.

Being the birthplace of the unique Baba Nyonya community, it was apt that the three-day convention took place in Malacca.

The event at the Hotel Equatorial turned out to be a lively cultural showcase with women delegates dressed elegantly in their colourful traditional Nyonya Kebaya and batik sarongs.

Several booths were also set up at the lobby showcasing various traditional items, jewellery and clothing of the Baba Nyonya people.

Beauties in a row: The contestants of the 2008 Miss Nyonya Kebaya International Pageant.

From the fine pieces of Nyonya Kebaya and batik, traditional kuih such as love letters (kuih kapit) and rempeyek, intricate antique ornaments and jewellery such as hairpins (cucuk sanggul), brooches (kerongsang), silver belts, necklace, earrings, bangles and buckles, to the much-adored handmade beaded-shoes were on display.

The sounds of the Keroncong, Dondang Sayang and Joget including evergreen oldies playing overhead were also heard, with many of the delegates joining in to sing and dance whenever the music was played.

For the senior delegates, the convention was a walk down memory lane that brought back fond memories of yesteryears and a chance to meet up with long time friends.

Organising host Malacca Straits-born Association president Datuk Phua Jin Hock said response to the event was overwhelming as some of the delegates had travelled from as far as Penang, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia to attend the convention.

A little game: Babas and nyonyas having a great time performing on the stage.

He said that similar gathering had been organised before but this was the first time that organisers had named it to better represent the Baba Nyonya community.

“We used to call it the The Baba Convention but decided to change it to the current Baba Nyonya Convention this year,” he said adding that it was only fair for women to be given due recognition for their role in the community.

“They (the women) have contributed significantly to the cultural enrichment of the community and its about time we acknowledged their role,” he said.

Phua also said the convention served as a timely reminder to promote awareness, understanding and a sense of pride of the Baba Nyonya culture, especially among the younger generation.

Pretty ladies: (From left) second runner up, Karen Chong Chooi Yin, champion Molek Lee Saw Im, first runner up, Sheryl Ong Mui Ai posing for the camera after receiving their prizes.

“The development of our community has come a long way and the challenges we face today are no more daunting than those faced by our forefathers.

“So it is important that we treasure and reinforce the close links between the existing Babas and Nyonyas in this region,” he said.

The Peranakan or Straits-born Chinese are Chinese migrants who intermarried with the locals and settled here, with some tracing their ancestry back to Malacca during the 15th century Sultanate Empire.

Their clothing and food exhibit strong Malay influence while retaining much of their Chinese heritage especially in religion, name and ethnic identity.

Phua said several discussions and talks were held at the convention covering topics such as heritage preservation, educating the younger generation on the importance of their cultural roots and building stronger links with the various Baba-Nyonya communities in the region.

One of the highlights was the Nyonya Kebaya Queen Contest, which saw 19 finalists strutting the catwalk in their best traditional Nyonya Kebayas.

Unique: Some significant Baba Nyonya antiques and curios were part of the attractions during the exhibition

It was a certainly a pleasant surprise for the boisterous crowd and finalist when septuagenarian Molek Lee Saw Im was crowned the winner.

The 73-year-old walked away with RM3,000 worth of prizes, beating other 18 much younger contestants with her grace and poise on stage.

“I am very flattered and excited at the same time as I am already 73-years old and never thought I had any chance at winning.

“The other contestants were much younger and sexier,” quipped the jovial Lee who hails from Penang.

Sheryl Ong Mui Ai, 29, was the first runner-up while 35-year-old Karen Chong Chooi Yin emerged as the second runner-up.

They walked away with RM2,000 and RM1,000 worth of prizes respectively

Preserving Centuries Old Legacy
by Allison Lai and Jason Lioh

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