Inventory no.: 32

Straits Chinese Chanab, Offering Box, Baba Nonya


Altar Chanab, made for the Straits Chinese Market

Southern China

19th century

length: 34 cm

This rare chanab, executed in black and red lacquered and gilded pinewood and with a black and gold lacquered cover, is intricately carved with courtly scenes. It has six feet, each of which sits on moveable, carved Buddhistic lions. It has six sides. When not in use, its cover is placed over it to protect it; the cover with a scene of six fighting Chinese males in courtly costume on one side and two small figures amid mountain scenery on the other.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.


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.


a similar chanab is in Khoo J.E., The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History, Pepin Press, 1996, p. 82; and in use, p. 84. Also in Ho, W.M., Straits Chinese Furniture, Times, 1994, p. 91). Also in Tan, C.B., Chinese Peranakan Heritage in Malaysia and Singapore, Penerbit Fajar Bakti, 1993, p. 9). Also in Lee, P. and J. Chen, Rumah Baba: Life in a Peranakan House, National Heritage Board, Singapore, p. 46.

Inventory no.: 32