Sarong Kebaya: Peranakan fashion in an Interconnected World
Perhaps nothing is more iconic in Singapore and the region than the sarong kebaya. Charting the evolution of this costume sheds light not only on the long historical development of multi-ethnic and polyglot port cities like Singapore, but also on the ancient origins of the country’s local culture. The creation and circulation of goods in the coastal communities of the Indian Ocean during the centuries from the Portuguese to the British colonial period, shaped the development of local popular cultures. Linked by shared concepts and taste transmitted through such circulating goods, these communities and the long-established globalisation and consumerism present in their towns and ports, challenge established paradigms about Asian culture.
The development and multi-directional journeys of the sarong and kebaya, provide an exemplary perspective of these cultural dynamics. It elucidates the involvement of members of various local, migrant, and colonial communities in the creation and patronage of such goods, and reveals the complexities of cosmopolitan (or hybrid) constructs, and also warns against traditional paradigms of pure and hybrid, colonial and indigenous, East and West. It also reveals new ways of thinking about ethnic and cultural boundaries in Singapore, and ultimately, about presenting national history based on shared links, rather than on exceptional characteristics and differences.