This bibliography highlights the richness of the collections on the Baba culture, many of which are located at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, National Library of Singapore. It brings together resources on both Baba past and Baba present – a wide-spectrum of socio-cultural perspectives – which will complement many studies on the community, particularly on the Chinese classics translated into Baba Malay, Peranakan material culture, and their unique social and linguistic characteristics.
The Babas or Peranakan Chinese of the Straits represent a unique hybrid culture in Southeast Asia. Marrying aspects of Chinese and Malay, as well as European and Indian elements, the Babas display a rich ritual heritage and a colourful material culture. They trace their beginnings to the immigration of Southern Chinese to Malacca in the 15th century, who through intermarriage with locals, led to a blending of cultures. Their migration to Penang and later Singapore saw the Baba culture take root in the Straits Settlements.
The Babas were one of the few local communities conversant in the English language in the late 19th century – a significant reason for their rise in standing as they mediated between the locals and the ruling British. Babas were in the forefront of local politics, leading both Malaysians and Singaporeans to independence.
As the tight-knit Baba community unraveled in post-war Malaya and its material treasures spilled out into the public sphere, ordinary Singaporeans and Malaysians began to appreciate their beauty and uniqueness. Many in their search for a new identity saw in the Babas the unifying racial harmony and cultural singularity they had sought. The 1980s saw Baba plays, publications and a renewed interest in Baba crafts bloom in Singapore and Malaysia. Supporters saw this as a revival of the Baba culture although detractors believe that the culture had long passed and these were its dying throes.
We hope that this annotated bibliography will be a useful resource for further research so that the collection itself will be further enhanced by such research. We also welcome donations of old publications related to the Babas community in Singapore and the region so that future Babas and all Singaporeans may benefit from its richness.
Lee Kong Chian Reference Library