With a great-granddaughter of
Seet Kee Ann
Sandra Shunmugam, 70
27 September 2018 at Klebang Kecil
Photo Seet Kee Ann’s tomb in Taman Malinja, Bukit Baru
Photo Credit: All photographs courtesy of Sandra Shunmugam
My father being an Indian and my mother being a nyonya, that makes me hybrid. I’ve always liked that word, like [hybrid] orchids, which my mother used to plant. Mummy’s name is Seet Swee Neo, she was a granddaughter of Seet Kee Ann. I am the 8th generation and my daughter the 9th generation of Seet. I’m very proud to be a Seet because my upbringing was totally nyonya, I spoke in nyonya patois, I learned to cook nyonya dishes, at home we ate all nyonya dishes except once or twice we cooked curry (not very agreeable to me because too much curry was heaty). All my relatives in Melaka are nyonya, I grew up with Baba and Nyonyas around me. No Indians. I grew up with my Mum’s pantang, she pantang seratus [many taboos]. It was easy for me to do “Emily of Emerald Hill” [a play about a poor girl who marries into a rich Peranakan family] because I just mimicked my mum, for example she would speak in her nyonya Malay: “Oh, apa guna lah, tak payah bikin macam tu lah” and after that she’d see the orang putih and she’d say [affecting European accent]: “Hi Mrs Schneider, how are you?” Then she’d become very Malay and say: ”Mat, bawa kereta tu!”, back to normal. That’s why it’s easy for me to mimic.
Seet Kee Ann was my great-grandfather. Seet Kee Ann’s wife, Madam Chua Suat Guat Neo, was my mum’s grandmother. Mummy was her favourite, which did not go down very well with her sisters. Being her favourite, [Mummy] would get extra jewellery. My mum was a pretty person. She was grandma’s favourite, she had the keys to her safe, she followed her grandma everywhere. So I inherited all that being an only child, I did not have to fight with anybody for whatever she left behind. This is her ring, Madam Chua Suat Guat Neo’s ring, I use it every day.
It is nice to have that heritage. I was happy going to the graveyard. It’s beautiful and huge, 3 layers, you know. You climb the first portion and you have the bronze lions. Then the second one, you have the huge granite lions. And on the third level we have the grave and all the other carvings, little sculptures and of course the Datuk at the side, and you could climb around the grave, because it was tiled, and put flowers on top. That was my duty, I was very happy to put the flowers on top.
One day I still remember, when people started thieving in Melaka, the marble piece at the altar on the grave was actually almost removed. Someone was ready to take it away. There was an Indian family making pots opposite the graveyard, my father asked [the man] to mix cement and put the marble back on again. It’s so sad, people are prepared to rob graves. They don’t even have to go into the grave, they take whatever. Gradually there were no more lions, no more bronze and later no more granite. Of course, now there is nothing, because I think the Malinja apartments are there in place of all the beautiful graves. It is very sad, it’s so beautiful, I miss those graves, it’s something you do not see. None of the people here know anything about such a beautiful grave. It’s just in people’s memories now.
Sandra and her parents, S. Shunmugam and Seet Swee Neo