‘No room For Mama nor her Sanggul’ by Florence Keh

She looked nothing at all like the regal matriarch we knew and loved. It broke our heart to see her robbed of her dignity. A Peranakan woman of her time would never ever have cut off her hair.

Memories of ‘Mama Batak’ Wee Siok Choo), my maternal great grandmother from the point of view of Florence Keh, my fourth aunt. Visit her blog here.

“My beloved Mama had lived with your Mama and Kong Kong almost all of her life. In her twilight years, she had to move out of our home because we no longer had room for her. Your Kong Kong could not afford the rental on the old terrace house (Carpmael Road, SIngapore) and moving into the 3-room (two bedrooms in actual fact) HDB flat was the only viable solution. With five daughters and a son, there was simply no space for a grandmother – and so she was sent away to live with her eldest son. In a way, she was ‘forced’ to go as she had no real say in the matter but I remember they went to great lengths to try to soften the blow. Your Mama and Kong Kong were equally grieved but head ruled over heart when they made that decision. I believe she would have settled for a corner of the living room in our tiny flat overfilled with love and laughter, than a room of her own in a home where she knew no one.

With everything she loved, gone from her life, she had one prized possession that she took along with her – her sanggul (chignon or bun). Bibik Batak, the nickname she went by, was proud of her sanggul.

I remember how my mother and my aunt, who also lived with us, had lovingly helped her brush and grease her long mane of hair and coil it into a beautiful bun when Mama’s arms grew too feeble to do so. We were all shocked to see her sans sanggul when we visited her at my uncle’s landed home in Katong.  She looked really pitiful in her chopped up hair.

She looked nothing at all like the regal matriarch we knew and loved. It broke our heart to see her robbed of her dignity. A Peranakan woman of her time would never ever have cut off her hair.The decapitation of the sanggul was again a matter of practicality. Her daughter-in-law said by way of explanation that it was far easier to keep her clean as they could easily shampoo Mama’s hair.

We had no room for Mama, but they had no room for her sanggul. I wonder which hurt Mama more?”

1 reply »

  1. Reblogged this on Circuspectives and commented:
    Long buried memories came tumbling out…snatches of sad and happy times of my growing up years in a household that was as March Hare crazy as it was steadfast and solid. My strong and beautiful niece, now teaching and pursuing her Phd, has started a project to recapture and perhaps revive the culture of the Peranakans, a splinter and a sliver of a race that now exists more in the memories of the remaining few descendants and the artifacts preserved belatedly in a museum dedicated to its preservation. “Salvaging the Sentimental” is her project to reach out to all the Peranakans out there to share pictorial and written accounts of their families and friends, and also all who may have hidden in their attic, similar stories and sentiments related to the Peranakans. Go to her blog, “salvaging the Sentimental” and I pride you an enjoyable and insightful read. Here is one contribution of mine that I have reposted on Circuspectives.

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