The Babas by Felilx Chia, first published in 1980, won the Highly Commended Award for English non-fiction by the National Book Development Council of Singapore.
The Babas by Felilx Chia is a social history of the Babas and Nonya. This seminal work by Felix Chia is made available again after being long out of print. Now illustrated throughout with photographs of a rich array of Baba artefacts sourced from private and public collections, this beautifully designed hard cover book will captivate and entrance both readers who are familiar with and new to Baba culture.
Felix Chia gives a witty, frank and lively exposition of the way of life he grew up in. His reminiscences and personal anecdotes are given additional weight by oral history and research. The result is an exceptional book where text and pictures combine to encapsulate the fascinating origin, language, practices, festivities and character of the Baba.
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Wayang Magic by Brandon Lim
To many non-Peranakans such as myself,
Felix’s name will always be synonymous with
the integral role he played in promoting the
revival of Peranakan culture in the mid-1980s. It
was Felix who wrote iconic books of Peranakan
history such as The Babas (1980), Ala Sayang!
(1983), Reminiscences (1984), and The Babas
Revisited (1993) – works that piqued the interest
of the general Singapore public.
Ever the passionate and talented writer, he
also put his writing skills to good use by writing
several Wayang Peranakan scripts like Pileh
Menantu (1984), Laki Tua Bini Muda (1985), Tua
Poh Sio Poh (1991) and Mari Kita Main Wayang
(1994). The staging of Pileh Menantu met with so
much success that many often acknowledge the
play as the single event that kick-started the trend
of Peranakan revivalism back in 1984. Regardless
of whom I spoke to about the 1980s Wayang
Peranakan, Felix’s name has always been at the
tip of everyone’s tongue – a testament to his
impact on Peranakan theatre.
It is more than his achievements, however,
that we should remember Felix by. In the course
of writing this obituary, I had the wonderful
opportunity of speaking to many people who
knew Felix personally. I asked them to share
some of their thoughts about Felix, not as an
established playwright or author, but as a person
… and these are the accolades:
Richard Tan, director of Main Wayang: “I
remember [Felix] as a man with a booming, loud
and clear voice who spoke wonderful Baba patois.
He often came by my grandma’s home in Joo Chiat
Road to play mahjong and drink with my grandma.”
William Gwee, writer and Peranakan authority:
“I met Felix when he launched The Babas in 1980.
He must have felt very proud to have been the first
one to have written about [the Peranakan
community]. Despite his success, however, he was
always gallant enough to admit he didn’t necessarily
know everything about the Babas.”
Alvin Tan director of The Necessary Stage:
“[Felix] was ahead of his time … and was a joy and
inspiration to collaborate
with. He did not let the
community’s outlook towards
certain matters limit his
experimental zeal. He was a
bold, creative and imaginative
theatre maker; a maverick of
Cecilia Ong, art
consultant and director of
Pileh Menantu: “Felix had
a good, quiet way of
observing what was taking
place during the rehearsals.
He never intruded on the
decisions I made and was always supportive of
the artistic direction I took. As a director [of
Pileh Menantu] that’s the most important thing
you can ask for in a scriptwriter.”
We fondly remember Baba Felix Chia as a
vibrant, energetic and dedicated individual who
brought these qualities to not only his beloved
Wayang Peranakan, but also to the lives of the
many people he lived and worked with. He will
be dearly missed.
Source: The Peranakan (published by The Peranakan Association Singapore), Issue 4, 2010, 41-42