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Red, Black & Gold Bakul Siah Wedding Basket
Fujian, China
circa 1900

height: 42cm, width: 31cm

Tiered baskets such as this example made of woven cane and wood and then lacquered in black and red and gilded 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.

Among the
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.)

Among the
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. Most age-related wear is to the top cover. Overall, the basket is in very good condition.

References:
Ee, R.,
et al, Peranakan Museum A-Z Guide, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2008.
Wee, P.,
A Peranakan Legacy: The Heritage of the Straits Chinese, Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009.

Provenance: UK art market

Inventory no.: 1907

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Click here to see more Straits Chinese-related items.
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.