The influence of Baba-Paranakan on Phuket’s culture started when Chinese ancestors migrated to Malacca, Penang and Phuket with the intention of making a new life. This was when the tin industry was flourishing in Phuket. In those days, the raw materials had to be smelted in Penang due to the journey to Bangkok being more difficult than to Penang. Therefore, the Hokkien mine owners in Phuket preferred to transport the ore to Penang. Consequently, cultures in Phuket such as clothes, architecture, cuisine, language, knowledge etc were dramatically changed by a Penang influence. To this day, many Phuket people still have relatives living in Penang.
Baba-Paranakan culture is beautiful in both spirit and expression. For hundreds of years it has blended Thai, Chinese, Malay and Western customs and traditions. The sophisticated cultures of Phuket are as shown below.
Baba-Paranakan in Phuket are both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhists. As Mahayana Buddhists, they respect Chinese Gods which is clearly seen in the Vegetarian & Moon Festivals and the altars that are placed in almost every house. They also give donations for Buddhist temples, make off-season offerings, send their offspring to enter the monkhood, do-merit and give alms to Buddhist monks as the way of Theravada Buddhism. The most important spiritual issue which sets Phuket culture is maintaining the purity of both body and spirit, especially by being participants in important ceremonies.
Baba in Phuket
Phuketians descend from various roots. There are descendants of local Thais in the Talang District, offspring from Sea Gypsies who traveled from cove to cove, the Muslims, the Sikhs who migrated from Madras and inheritors from Westerners. Nevertheless, the majority of Phuket populations (about 75%) are ancestors of Chinese who have married with native Thais. The Thai-Chinese offspring are typically called “Baba”.
The ‘Paranakan’, from the Malay language means “locally born or descendant”. It has used to describe the descendants who are part Chinese and part native Malay or Indonesian. ‘Baba’ refers to the male offspring and ‘Nyonya’ the female. In Singapore and Malaysia, the word ‘Peranakan’ is typically used for a group of people while in Phuket the word ‘Baba’ is more commonly used. ‘Baba’ in Phuket mean Chinese descendants including both male and female. In Phuket, ‘Paranakan’ is used for international communication in South East Asia.
Even though most of Phuket’s population is Baba-Paranakan, they live in peace and harmony with other races under the King’s Patronage of King Rama IV. Therefore, the way of life from many places are beautifully and indivisibly blended into the unique Phuket culture.