(Extracted from July-Sept 2002 Issue of The Peranakan newsletter)
At the turn of the last century, the issue of illegal gambling among Nyonyas was one of the most sensational and scandalous topics discussed among angst-ridden members of the Peranakan community. PETER LEE compiles some of these outspoken voices from the past.
“In the charge sheets and records of our Police Courts, do we not sometimes find the names of our Straits Chinese girls as prisoners in gambling cases? I believe it has sometimes happened that when a raid is made on a house where gambling is suspected to be going on, the people therein are arrested indiscriminately, and the young unmarried girls are packed off to the police station, although they may not have been gambling. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of our habits and customs must be aware that where elderly ladies and young, married women squat down in a group for a spell of gambling, it is considered most improper, if not actually rude, for a young unmarried woman to join the company.”
LEE SEW FAN
‘STRAITS CHINESE MAIDENS”
THE STRAITS CHINESE MAGAZINE, VOLUME VI, 1902
“They become selfish and careless and ignorant, with a propensity for gambling and some even for drinking for the sake of something that gives them temporary excitement, and in some cases, apparently preferring now and again to have an audience of the Police Magistrate rather than to be occupied with the training, moral and mental, of their children… I cannot blame them, for they are objects rather of pity than of censure. They are the products of a system for which their fathers, husbands and brothers are responsible.”
SNG ONG SIANG
‘THE POSITION OF CHINESE WOMEN.”
THE STRAITS CHINESE MAGAZINE VOL. 1, 1897
“Quite recently an exceedingly interesting discussion was carried on in the Straits Times on the subject on which I am now writing. There was one letter signed by “a Nyonia” which contained some good remarks on the subject. Referring to our Nyonyas she said, “the penchant they have for chap-hi-ki and che-ki is certainly reprehensible.” If the writer were a Nyonya, she would qualify that general remark by saying that there is one thin silver lining in that black cloud. The writer of that letter ought to have mentioned the pleasant fact that not only gambling not indulged in by Christian Chinese women, but that there are Nyonyas, who are not Christians, to whom the gambling craze does not appeal at all. This gambling “penchant” of the Nyonyas is certainly reprehensible, but can nothing be done to remedy this evil? The writer welcomed the suggestion for a Committee to reform the “pernicious gambling habits” of our womenfolk. She however went on to suggest that the proposed Committee should begin with the Baba first. Where is the advantage gained in the pot calling the kettle black? If gambling is reprehensible, it is reprehensible whether indulged in by the Babas or the Nyonyas.
So far as our Nyonyas are concerned, there is no doubt che-ki gambling has become an indispensable adjunct of Chinese wedding festivities. So much so that a hostess would give great offence if gambling were prohibited in her house on such an occasion. The festivities in connection with a Chinese marriage continue for four or five days and female guests are invited day after day from ten in the morning to about five in the afternoon. What entertainment is it that the hostess can provide for her guests, composed of pretty nearly the same people from day to day, which does not pall? It is gambling. As long as the practice lasts of making a Chinese wedding a thing of weariness and of enormous and, for the most part, unnecessary expense, I think that it will be exceedingly difficult for any Reformer or Reform Committee to devise some other kind of entertainment for these ignorant female guests.
Time was when the presence of the older women acted as a check on the younger women who felt shy to join in the gambling circle, but unfortunately the barrier was broken down and young women who have a long purse are encouraged to gamble with the elder folks. These young women are the people who should be saved from themselves. The trouble is, how it is to be done. Rich husbands may of course try by cutting down their wives’ pocket allowance, but that will be of no use, for these women at a pinch may pledge their jewels and so find the money to satisfy this awful craving. That is wanted is no discrimination by the Police in raiding houses in which gambling is going on. The fact that the persons arrested for gambling were guest at a wedding party should be absolutely no excuse for breaking the law. If gambling is an offence against the law here, it should be an offence demanding punishment against all persons indulging in the vice and on all occasions. If the police take such a keen interest in keeping down gambling among the poor rickshaw coolies, is it too much to ask them to show the same amount of interest in our Nyonyas? A vigorous crusade resulting in the appearance of our Nyonyas from day to day in the Police Courts will make some impression on the Nyonyas themselves. It will also stir the Babas up to do something.”
Another form of gambling which is very common among our Nyonyas is cap-ji-ki. Tbe ruin that chap-ji-ki has brought about in many a home is fearful. Chap-ji-ki is like the plague in our midst, it tempts young and old alike. It is a more popular form of this vice because a person can indulge in it without having to go out of her house. There are respectable stake-collectors to whose house you must go or send your stake from day to day. There are also stake-collectors, and these are more in number, who go their daily round from house to house and collect the stakes of the immates of each house visited. These stake-collectors become familiar figures to the young members of the household. The excitement of seeing the mother or aunt getting back her stake and nine times as much again from the collector at the end of the day induces the girl in their teens and the girls still attending school to try their luck. The craving once established is hard to repress even in a young gambler. It has become a disease in the old gambler. There is even an “amah” in the service of my mother who stakes in chap-ji-ki everyday. She gets ten dollars a month, and I know for a fact that the whole of her wages goes to satisfy the craving for chap-ji-ki. For some time I gave her some pocket money for her “tiffin”, but I found that she would stint herself that midday meal and stake the money on some chap-ji-ki character, ad I therefore feed her instead.”
NEO PUAK NEO
“GAMBLING AMONGST OUR NYONYAS.”
THE STRAITS CHINESE MAGAZINE VOL. XL NO. 3 SEPTEMBER 1907