Auckland grandmother Vivian Goh, 75, identifies herself as a Peranakan.

But despite having lived in New Zealand for more than 30 years, she has still no idea how many from her ethnic group there are here.

Peranakan, or Straits-born Chinese, are descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to South East Asia countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand between the 15th and 17th centuries.

In Malaysia, where Goh originally came from, Peranakan women are addressed as Nyonya and the men are called Baba.


Goh, who recorded "Peranakan" as her ethnicity in the Census, is disappointed that her ethnicity was not being classified or recognised here.

Statistics New Zealand said data was available only for ethnic groups that had a population of at least 100 people.

"Our Peranakan culture is unique and is completely different from other Malaysian or Singaporean Chinese, and even though that is where most of us are originally from, we are not the same," Goh said.

"It would be nice if Census could include information about small, minority communities too."

Her Peranakan friends, numbering about half a dozen, gather regularly - wearing their traditional sarong kebaya outfits and sharing traditional dishes - in a bid to keep the culture alive.

The food, called Nyonya cuisine, generally uses Malay spices, and is also known for a wide variety of desserts and cakes, which are called kueh.

Goh has three adult children - a son who has a mainland Chinese wife, and two daughters who married a European and the other a Maori.

Without official recognition, she was worried the Peranakan culture could disappear completely in New Zealand.


Christina Tie, 75, originally from Singapore, said she shares her Peranakan culture running cooking classes at libraries and community centres.

"It is sad that most Kiwis don't even know what a Peranakan is," she said.

"It's like as if we, as a community, are invisible and this zero recognition does make us feel small."

Tie said without official data, it was difficult to even start a proper Peranakan group.

"Most of us are just elderly Nyonyas, so we don't have the skills or the knowledge to produce materials like videos or educational items to share on social media," Tie said.

"Where do we even begin to look to find others like us?"