by Baba Lee Yuen Thien
Chanap is one of the many offering items for prayers in a Peranakan household. The word Chanap is a term that only the Peranakans of Malacca and Singapore recognize. The Peranakans of Penang, Phuket, and even Indonesia for example are not familiar with the word “Chanap”, even though they have similar objects of offerings in their traditions and practices, they refer to it as Bit Chien instead.
The Peranakans of Malacca coined the term Chanap from the Hokkien term Chien Hap. Chien in hokkien means ‘sweet’ or ‘preserves’ and Hap refers to ‘a box’. Therefore Chien Hap literally means ‘sweet box’. The Chanap thus is a display of preserved half-ripe papaya woven and carved in the shape of crabs and flowers and decorated on an elaborate box.
The Chanap is offered during prayers mainly in major celebrations like ushering in the Lunar New Year, prayers to the Jade Emperor on the 8th day of Chinese New Year(Pai Thi Kong), weddings, and even funerals. Usually the Chanap is the main attraction of the altar as it is the most beautiful object among all the other offering items. The reason why the papaya is carved in the form of a crab is because in the Chinese language, crab is pronounced as Xie which is similar to the word ‘harmony’. Therefore, the Peranakan community display or offer Chanap to the deities or ancestors with the intention that in return the deity would bestow a beautiful, peace and harmonieslife to them.
Nowadays, the preparation of the Chanap is a dying art, There is only a handful of Babas and Nyonyas left in Malacca who know how to prepare the chanap. I ‘d like to acknowledge my grandaunt (Chimpo), Madame Koh Kim Lian who generously taught me the skills and art of preparing the chanap which she learnt from her mother and aunts.
Baba Lee Yuen Thien is a 5th generation Malaccan Baba. He lives in Malacca and has learnt many Peranakan cultural practices from his paternal and maternal grandmothers and relatives. He is presently pursuing a Masters degree at UKM.