Remembering Our Roots: Peranakan Culture

A look into The Intan Museum and the man behind its antiques.

By Tieffany Freya        22 July 2022

Founded in 2003, The Intan is a Peranakan heritage home-museum run by founder Alvin Yapp, a man with a deep passion for Peranakan culture and an avid collector of antiques.

The Intan, which roughly translates to “Rose-cut diamond” in Malay, resides in the heart of Joo Chiat, an area known for being the central hub of Peranakan culture in Singapore.

Today, we take a look into one of Singapore’s largest collections of Peranakan antiques and explore the rich history behind them. From vibrant Tingkat carriers to intricately beaded slippers, here’s what you can expect when visiting this quaint yet cosy museum.

Behind The Intan

Coming from a Peranakan background, Yapp found it important to understand his culture and heritage as he considered his Peranakan roots to be a core part of his identity.

The need to learn more about where he came from fueled his passion for collecting antiques, and with each piece that he collected, shop owners and sellers would share their stories about Peranakan history with him, deepening his love for Peranakan culture.

During his days with the Navy, a young Yapp would save up whatever allowance he got and spend them on garage hunts and sales, adding to his ever growing collection of Peranakan antiques.

Eventually, when people started taking notice of his expansive collection, a growing interest by the National Heritage Board prompted him to share his passion with like-minded individuals of Singapore.

In 2003, Yapp opened his doors and founded The Intan home-museum.

Living in a home filled with antiques of diverse colours and intricate details, Yapp’s most cherished and beloved part of the Peranakan culture didn’t come from the material items but rather the transcendent language that represented the Peranakans – Baba Malay.

He likened the language of Baba Malay to the culture itself. A unique and beautiful mix of different cultures and languages, combined into one. Intricate yet colourful.

Finally, Yapp encourages new collectors to go out, touch, feel and interact with likeminded collectors in order to gain experience and acquire new knowledge and skills in identifying their heritage.
“The fastest way to success is through failure”

How do we preserve our cultural heritage?

With so much going on in the world, it’s easy to forget our roots and origin. So how do we preserve our cultural heritage?

More than wearing cultural clothing or speaking the language, Yapp believes that the most effective and important way to preserve our cultural heritage is to simply remember who we are, stay true to our roots, and along the way, our identity and cultural awareness will naturally manifest.

What to look out for at The Intan Museum

From the perspective of this writer, the beautifully intricate patterns and lively colours of the Peranakan antiques will definitely grab at your attention and leave you mesmerised as you listen to the stories of each piece through Yapp’s tour.

A few things that surprised me was learning the history behind the antiques and how they came to be a part of Peranakan culture, such as the Tingkat Mangkuk’s that decorated the stairs and ceiling of The Intan.

Originating from Czechoslovakia, Tiffin Carriers used to be abundant throughout parts of eastern Europe before making their way through different parts of Asia and becoming a staple of Peranakan culture.

It was also impossible to not be enamoured by the beautiful pairs of Kasut Manik’s, with their different unique designs and colours, vibrant red soles as well as the intricately hand-beaded details. Originating from France during the Victorian era, these slippers became an icon of Peranakan fashion.

Of course, these are only small morsels of the rich history behind Peranakan Culture and the stories that Yapp tells throughout his tour, so you’ll need to experience this culture-packed museum for yourself!

With individually unique stories for every piece, you won’t be able to stop yourself from seeking out each one to learn more.

Welcome to The Intan

Ready to travel back in time as you step into The Intan and marvel at the intricately decorated everyday objects exhibited in the home-museum?

From beaded slippers to hand-painted tiffin carriers commissioned by Peranakan women, enjoy Peranakan history and culture from the owner and collector himself!

For the foodies, indulge in authentic homemade Peranakan meals and desserts from Kueh Salat to Kueh Lapis – there is a wide selection of Nyonya Kueh to choose from, all made with the recipes that were handed down to Yapp from his mother.

A must try recommendation from the owner is the iconic Ayam Buah Keluak, a dish that takes days to prepare. So make sure to book a tour slot in advance to enjoy these beautiful sights and delicious meals!

From now until 31st August, SAFRA Members enjoy 50% off tickets to The Intan Tea Experience, in celebration of SAFRA’s 50th anniversary. If you’re only able to head down after August, you’ll still enjoy a 20% discount till the end of the year.