Black & Gold Bakul Siah Wedding Basket
height: 41cm, width: 33.5cm
Tiered baskets such as this example made of woven cane and wood and then lacquered and gilded with additional applied auspicious emblems fabricated from lacquer and attached over the cane panels were ordered from China’s Fujian province by the peranakan (localised) Chinese of Southeast Asia including the peranakan of the Straits Settlements, Phuket, Sumatra, Makassar and Java.
The baskets were used in the elaborate wedding rituals that had evolved in many
peranakan Chinese communities.
peranakan Chinese of the Straits Settlements, such baskets were known as bakul siah (‘auspicious baskets’) and were used to transport wedding gifts during the twelve-day wedding, as well as during the engagement. (Bakul means basket in Malay and siah means auspicious in Hokkien.)
peranakan Chinese of Phuket Town on the Thai island of Phuket (who were closely related by marriage and migration to the peranakan Chinese of Penang), the groom’s relatives would let off fire crackers and then move the khanmak (trays of wedding gifts) in a procession to the bride’s hose. The procession would include musicians playing Chinese horns and gongs, making sounds like ‘tee tor tee cheng’ – apparently an idiom for ‘marriage’ in Hokkien.
The small wedding gifts such as money, gold and the wedding ring were carried in the procession in small baskets that the local
peranakan called huatnah. The larger items as well as paraphernalia to do with the rituals such as snacks, beverages, tea sets, candles and incense sticks were carried in larger baskets such as the example here, which locally were known as sianah.
See Wee (2009, p. 24) and Ee (2008, p. 48) for related examples.
The example here has obvious age. An early twentieth century dating is consistent with the patina that the basket has developed. There are only minor losses to the lacquer and some minor usage-related rubbing to the gilding. Overall, the basket is in very good condition.
Ee, R., et al, Peranakan Museum A-Z Guide, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2008.
A Peranakan Legacy: The Heritage of the Straits Chinese, Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009.
Private collection, UK.
Inventory no.: 1906
Part of a wedding ceremony for a local Chinese couple, photographed in Phuket Town, southern Thailand, in August 2012. Note the wedding basket to the left of the bride. A revival of interest in traditional customs among some peranakan Chinese on Phuket means that such baskets are making a re-appearance at some weddings.