Most travelers to Melaka or Penang may be familiar with the predominant Baba Nyonya or Peranakan culture of the Straits Chinese who flourished in the trading settlements. However, the heritage city is also home to other creole cultures, which evolved from the intermarriage of foreign traders with the native people some 500 years ago.
Besides the Kristangs or Eurasian Malays of the Portuguese Settlement, there are the Chetti (also spelled Chitty) people, who are descendants of Indians traders from Tamil Nadu, who first arrived in Melaka to trade spice and merchandise as long ago as the 15th century. As a matter of fact, the word chitty means “trader” in Tamil. These Tamil traders came for extended trips as bachelors or without their wives, and they married local women in Melaka of various ethnicities such as Malays, Chinese, Javanese and Batak, thereby producing a hybrid culture of “Indian Peranakans”.
|A painting of a Chitty wedding at Muzium Chetti in Melaka, Malaysia|
|Muzium Chetti is a great introduction to the unique heritage and culture of the Chitty people|
|Cooking demonstration of ‘haram jada’, a traditional Chitty vegetable stew|
They have also incorporated some Malay dishes into their diet. At the Kandasamy Raja household, we watched how a spicy dish called haram jada – which is actually a Malay curse word – was cooked. It is a traditional Chitty stew of mixed vegetables with chili paste, tamarind juice and coconut milk.
The Chitty are truly a fascinating blend of cultures one can find in Malaysia. Unfortunately, their cultural identity is vanishing, as many of them are culturally assimilating into the mainstream Indian, Chinese, and Malay ethnic communities. This small but distinct group of people that has survived for centuries is now on the brink of extinction.
Muzium Chetti (Chitty Museum)
Address: Kampung Chetti, Jalan Gajah Berang, Melaka
Opening Hours: Wednesdays to Sundays only, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Admission: RM 2 – Adults and RM 0.50 for Children
This blog post was made possible through Celebrating 1Malaysia Truly Asia – Melaka, a media tour held last November 23 to 25, 2013. The event was organized by Gaya Travel Magazine and Tourism Malaysia in celebration of Visit Malaysia Year 2014.
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