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Rare Baba Texts

Shakyer Karangan Cheki

Dated : 1912
Publisher : The Criterion Press Ltd.
Place of Publication : Penang
Pages : 106 pages

Cheki is a card game created by the Babas and Nyonyas of Malacca : the popular names granted to the Straits born Chinese or "Peranakan", who incorporated unique features from the Chinese, Malays and English into a prosperous culture that flourished till the early days of the 20th century in the former Straits Settlements of Malaya.

The game itself is played using a deck of 60 cards, each measuring about 60mm X 24mm, with three suits and nine numerals for each suit. The game is rather similar to the western "Gin Rummy" and still is a popular leisurely pursuit of the Babas and Nyonyas today.

In the golden age of the Babas however, Cheki was as addictive as Mah-jong is to the Chinese of today, and such was the gambling craze associated with this game that small fortunes were often lost over a hand.

The Syair in this book tries to chronicle the foolishness of a lady who manages not only to lose a small fortune from playing Cheki, but also fails in her attempts to deceive her husband after she is caught by the police for illegal gambling. The syair is filled with humorous and sometimes bawdy anecdotes of this sequence of events, and is often marked by verses of caution for would be gamblers to take heed of the sins of Cheki !

The uniqueness of this particular book lies not only in the fact that it chronicles a unique feature of Baba life, but also by grace of the fact that the Syair is written in Baba Malay, a creole version of Malay characterized by the usage of words from the Hokkein dialect of Chinese in its speech. Books printed in Baba Malay are extremely rare to come by and this edition of the Syair could well be the only copy around.

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