Wood craftsman in love with Nyonya antiques

  • Nyonya culture encompasses various aspects of life such as costumes, furniture, architecture, language and food, and is a harmonious blend of the Chinese and Malay cultures with a tinge of Western influences. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

  • A Nyonya altar for placing fruits, with the deities of 'Fu' (Good fortune), 'Lu' (Prosperity), 'Shou'(Longevity), engraved on it, showing that the Nyonya culture has indeed incorporated some of the elements of the Chinese culture. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

  • The fine workmanship of Nyonya accessories. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

  • Well-crafted cigarette boxes. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

  • Chinese-styled wooden Nyonya sculpture. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

  • Chinese unicorn, an auspicious animal, has also become a part of the Nyonya antiquity. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

Translated by LIM YAN TING
Sin Chew Daily

KLUANG, Johor: Tan Kim Yik, 62, has over the past 30 years changed his trade from rubber trading, groceries, and now to wooden box trading. He has switched from trade to trade, but one thing remains unchanged throughout the years: his unconquerable passion for antiques.

Baba Nyonya is a unique culture in Malaysia as well as Singapore. Nyonya culture encompasses various aspects of life such as costumes, furniture, architecture, language and food, and is a harmonious blend of the Chinese and Malay cultures with a tinge of Western influences, and has thus become a special acquired culture itself.

This is why Tan has been so much obsessed with Nyonya antiques.

Now living in Kluang, Tan used to own a rubber trading business three decades ago. He started collecting coins and stamps at that time while having his first ever encounter with Nyonya antiques. He slowly developed a passion for these Nyonya antiques and is now growing his business towards this area.

Collecting Nyonya antiques

Tan said he had the opportunity to come into contact with the source of Nyonya antique collection because of his job. He said Nyonya antiques used to be underpriced because many Baba and Nyonya descendants were unaware of the importance of preserving their cultural relics, and would sell them the moment someone asked for them.

As a result, Tan had the opportunity to acquire plenty of Nyonya relics from these owners.

Tan collected a lot of Nyonya ornaments and accessories, and has given away some to his friends. Currently he is focusing on the collection of items made of silver, copper, tin and wood. He even set aside a room in his house just to keep his collection of Nyonya antiques.

He said Nyonya antiques were of very fine workmanship. Some of the Nyonya relics are sculpted with the deities of 'Fu' (Good Fortune), 'Lu' (Prosperity), 'Shou' (Longevity), as well as dragon, phoenix and peony, attesting to the fact that the Nyonya culture has indeed incorporated some of the elements of the Chinese culture.

Among Tan's collection are engraved Nyonya furniture, Nyonya female tops, cigarette boxes, powder boxes, accessories, cutlery and so on, and his personal favourite is a belt which is now very rare.

Giving away antiques as gifts

An active member of the Johor stamp, coin and antique collection club since its inception, Tan is currently the club's assistant treasurer as well as the head of its antiques division.

Currently engaged in the wooden box manufacturing business; Tan said he had to do much of the work himself as skilled workers were hard to come by. He lamented that he had to work more than ten hours a day, leaving not much time for the stamp, coin and antique collection club.

Tan said he used to refuse to sell anything in his collection last time, but as the prices of antiques were getting higher nowadays, he is considering selling past of his collection so that he can raise money to afford other antiques that he likes.

He also said he preferred to have friends sharing his antique collection hobby with him. Therefore, he would try to meet people sharing the same passion and exchange antiques with them.

MySinchew 2011.04.06