Did you know that there exists a unique community in Singapore which is a blend of three different cultures namely Tamil, Malay and Chinese? Did you know that this community speaks a unique language called as Creole which is a combination of the languages spoken in the above three cultures? Yes, there does exist such a community and it is called as the Chetti Melaka community. When I visited the Indian Heritage Centre at Little India in Singapore, I came across a special exhibition gallery dedicated to the Chetti Melaka community. I was so bewitched by the history of the Chetti Melaka community that I decided to learn more about it and share my learning with you all.
This post is a short account of my learning about the Chetti Melaka community at the Indian Heritage Centre and I hope you like it.
Who are the Chetti Melaka?
Chetti in Tamil means a trader. When the traders from South India (mostly men) migrated to Melaka (a state in Malaysia) in the 15th century, they married the local women of Malay and Chinese origin and engendered a new community called as the Chetti Melaka community. This community is a unique blend of three cultures namely Tamil, Malay and Chinese. The Chetti Melaka initially settled in the Chetti Village located in Gajah Berang, Melaka and later migrated to Singapore in the 19th century. Today, there are around 5000 Chetti Melaka living in Singapore.
What Language do They Speak?
The Chetti Melaka speak a special language called as Chetti Creole which is a unique combination of Tamil, Malay and Chinese words and phrases. Below are a few words from Chetti Creole and their meaning in English:
Lu Orang – Everybody
Pi – Go
Bikin Apa – What to do?
Pake – Use
Kerbo – Buffalo
What do They Eat?
The Chetti Melaka cuisine is a fascinating blend of Indian, Malay and Chinese culinary styles. Some of their famous dishes include Nasi Lemak (fragrant steamed rice), Lauk Pindang (fish in tamarind curry), Kuey Rose (rose-shaped cookies) and Wajek (dessert made from glutinous rice, palm sugar, pandan leaves and coconut milk. Yumm!).
What do They Wear?
The traditional attire of the Chetti Melaka is rather distinctive. Men and women both wear sarongs with the men usually wearing the checkered one and the women wearing the more stylish and beautifully designed ones. The men wear a tunic top and a headgear called as the talapa while the women wear a shirt called as the kebaya and accessorize themselves with golden anklets (Silambu), gold bracelets, brooches (Keronsang) and gold chokers (addigai).
What are Some of Their Festivals and Rituals?
A majority of the Chetti Melaka are Hindus. They celebrate festivals like Pongal, Puthandu (Tamil New Year) and Deepavali. A special ritual however, called as Bhogi Parachu is dedicated to their ancestors. Photographs of deceased family members are displayed and garlanded, home cooked dishes are laid in front of them on banana leaves and a silent prayer is offered by the Chetti Melaka as they wait for their ancestors to consume their offerings.
How do They Spend Their Free Time?
The most popular games played by the Chetti Melaka are Congkak and Cherki. Cherki is a card game whereas Congkak is a board game made of curved wood with small holes on each side and one large hole at either end. Players are required to use cowrie shells or saga seeds and collect the maximum number of shells. In Kannada, we call this game as Aluguli Mane.
Where are They Now?
The Chetti Melaka numbers are dwindling as people from their community are marrying outside of their community. What is surprisingly ironic is that the reason that gave rise to this community is also the exact same reason to cause its waning. Nonetheless, the community is striving hard to identify other Chetti Melaka and preserve their culture. If you identify yourself as a Chetti Melaka, join their Facebook community here or visit the Indian Heritage Centre in Singapore and fill their forms.
The Chetti Melaka is truly a unique community of this world with an amalgamation of not just two but three distinctive cultures. Progressive thoughts of our ancestors gave rise to this wonderful, new culture. If there is something that we can learn from our ancestors of the Chetti Melaka community, it is to look beyond the man-made holocaust called as “caste” and be more receptive to love and life. When stereotypes are broken, legends are born. When superficial barriers are broken, new cultures are born.