Earlier this month, the Peranakan Museum was having a very special exhibition on Emily of Emerald Hill, an iconic Singaporean play written in 1982 by local playwright Stella Kon. Emily of Emerald Hill has been performed numerous times in Singapore as well as other parts of the world such as Malaysia, Hawaii and even Edinburgh! It is considered one of the regions greatest literary works.
Paying tribute to the symbolic play, the Emily of Emerald Hill Exhibition at the Peranakan Museum showcased the different interpretations of the play through the costumes, props, scripts, photographs and videos.
Emily of Emerald Hill follows the life of a young Peranakan bride, Emily Gan who marries into a rich matriarchal family on Emerald Hill. What is interesting about the play is that it is a one-woman play narrated by Emily as she recounts the challenges and experiences from her past.
Emily of Emerald Hill is touted as a symbol of Singaporean Identity and one of Singapore’s most iconic plays because of how closely it follows and preserves the Peranakan culture. The Peranakans were born from the early Chinese immigrants to the British Malaya, now known as Singapore and Malaysia. Many of them were traders, the middle people between the British and the Chinese and they grew to be among the wealthiest group in the early 20th century.
The Peranakan culture is interesting because of the integration of both Western and local culture. As such, while they mostly spoke English, hints of Malay and dialect would be present as part of their speech. The Peranakan also continued to practice many of the Chinese beliefs, which are depicted throughout the play. True to the story of Emily, Peranakan Families are very matriarchal, because the women would run the household while the men were off to work to earn money to support the family. Peranakan women were known to be extremely capable, not just in cooking but also in intricate handicrafts.
The next time you visit Singapore, I would definitely recommend a visit to the Peranakan Museum where you will be able to experience first hand the exotic Peranakan culture. Please talk to your Capella Singapore Personal Assistant, who will be happy to help with planning your visit!
Here is a video excerpt of the play Emily of Emerald Hill:
Photo via The Peranakan Museum.