This six-sided, three-tiered chanab, executed in black and red lacquered and gilded pinewood and with a black and gold lacquered cover, is intricately carved with typically Chinese courtly and other scenes. The top tier (which lifts out) is carved on all sides with scrolling foliage and flower motifs to either side of central panels of fish. The top of the top tier retains all five of the original small red-painted offering trays.
It has six feet, each of which sits on moveable carved Buddhistic lions.
The condition of this chanab is very good. There are some very minor losses to the carved fretwork and three of the nine lotus bud finials attached to the rail that goes right around the first tier are replacements (these are old finials taken from another item).
A similar chanab is illustrated in Ho (1994, p. 90).
Overall, this is a superb item in very good condition for its age and intricacy. Chanabs of this form with carved and gilded covers are relatively rare. Chanabs used by Straits and Peranakan Chinese of Southeast Asia tended to be of the hexagonal variety (such as the one here). Chanabs used by the Hokkien in China usually were square.
The chanab was placed in the centre of each Straits Chinese family’s sam kai altar, the most important altar in the family home. The sam kai altar was used for important ceremonies, particularly weddings. When not in use, the six-sided black lacquered box was placed over the chanab to protect it.
Called a beet-chien in Penang and a chien-arb or chanab in Malacca and Singapore, bamboo skewers of crystallised papaya were stood on a pewter rack that was placed on top of the chanab as offerings for the God of Heaven.
Khoo J.E., The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History, Pepin Press, 1996.
Ho, W.M., Straits Chinese Furniture, Times, 1994.
Tan, C.B., Chinese Peranakan Heritage in Malaysia and Singapore, Penerbit Fajar Bakti, 1993.
Lee, P. and J. Chen, Rumah Baba: Life in a Peranakan House, National Heritage Board, Singapore, 1998.