Nyonya beaded shoes
Nyonya beaded shoes and embroidered slippers are status symbols because they were handmade and took many hours to produce. Highly skilled artisans who specialized in this art perfected their skills by making beautiful pairs, year after year. It was also an art that was imposed on young nubile girls so that they could attract rich handsome suitors -- by way of being to cook, sew and embroider very well.
Usually these slippers were made so that they match a particular batik sarong that was paired up with a nyonya kebaya. With colored beads and silk threads, the combinations are endless. Motifs were mostly inspired by nature and mythical figures.
Photos and descriptions of the slippers below on this page are courtesy of Dr. Farish A Noor, from his private collection. As an avid collectors of all things ancient and beautiful, from the orient, he is generous enough to describe this collection.
This is a nice pair that was sourced from Malacca. Its embroidered work,
not beaded. A nice, cute little detail is to be found inside the left shoe,
beneath the embroidered panel: a small label that reads: "For
Sister-in-law". Probably dating from the wartime era. Leather sole dyed and
hammered base. Malacca.
If its beadwork you're into, then here is a nice piece, though a rather late one. It was found in Malacca and its probably from the 1950s, but fine work it is too. Unlike all the rest, this later example is set on heels, and that is a rather late innovation compared to the earlier bum-boat shoes (as they were called) that were flat-heeled. Sourced in Malacca, 2004.
An earlier model of the sort of beaded shoes the Peranakan ladies were famous for. Note that the beads were mainly imported from Europe, and this accounts for their cost. Peranakan women often used imported materials like lace (from India or Europe), Muslin cloth, silk and beads in their dresses. This merely emphasized the distinctions of class and social standing in their own exclusive circles, and so again we can 'read' these objects in narrative form and take them as statements of subject-positioning. Dress is narrative, remember!Sourced in London, 2007.
The most precious set in this collection. These are even rarer still: a pair of silver-gilt Peranakan/Malay shoe covers. These were clearly intended to be sewn/stitched on the shoes after they were done, instead of the usual beadwork or embroidery. Farish has never seen anything like them and found them at the Angel-Islington flea market in London one freezing wednesday morning in London, during his PhD years in the 1990s. Sourced in London, 1997.
This is an interesting pair as you can see that the shoes are not beaded, but rather embroidered. Such embroidery was painful and tedious work, but for the unfortunate Peranakan women of Penang, Malacca, Singapore, Surabaya, Batavia etc- there were precious few options for them then. Young Eurasian, Chinese, Indian and Arab Peranakan girls were expected to know how to cook, sew, do beadwork and embroidery etc in order to present themselves as potential brides. It all looks pretty now, but remember that this was hard and dull work for a whole generation of young women who had few, if any, rights.
Now this pair came my way in Jakarta, and they are interesting as they
happen to be the only ones in his collection that are clearly stamped with
the maker's mark. This was clearly not made in some Peranakan home, but at a
shoe-shop. The stamp on the top side of the sole says: Toko Surabaya-Buitenzorg.
This is a rather fetching pair that was bought from Portobello road, London, a few years ago. In Europe these Peranakan shoes are often mistaken for Turkish Ottoman shoes, and God knows how many arguments Farish has had with dealers who insist on the latter. Sourced in London, 2007.
A detailed shot of the previous pair. Note the extensive use of silver thread (as opposed to gold thread) on this one. The effect of the silver thread is quite arresting, but it is a chore to maintain this pair, because unlike gold thread, silver thread will tarnish and turn black! So this pair has to be locked up in an airtight box to make sure the silver does not tarnish over time. Taking care of antiques can be more tiresome than taking care of kids! Aaaagh...!
This is his personal favorite, because they happen to be perhaps the only pair of slippers made for men, and he can actually wear them. The base is black velvet that has been embroidered with silk thread, with the same repeating motif of a cockerel amidst flowers. Such themes and motifs were common then, as were shoes and slippers for men - which you see in photos. However this may be the only made-for-men pair that he has, as for reasons that are not clear, most of the men's shoes seem to have gone lost. Sourced in London, 2007.
Editor's note: I believe those missing men's slippers were lost during catfights between concubines :P
Baba and Nyonya Culture in Penang
Unique to Malaysia and the rest of the world is the Baba and Nyonya culture.
Nyonya Kebaya Materials for SALE here!
Click on these thumbnails to view the intricate patterns (kerawang).
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