Offerings to your ancestors
Gie Tjin Kan tells about giving offerings to her ancestors.
1. Ancestor altar
This ancestor altar belongs to the Kan, Han and Tan families. Their ancestors were Chinese, but they lived in Indonesia for a long time. The Kan family came to the Netherlands in 1971. They went out of their way to bring their ancestor altar with them so that they could carry on giving offerings to their ancestors. They used the altar until they donated it to the museum in 2021.
Peranakan; Jakarta, Indonesia and China; 1890-1910; wood; donation of Kan family, 2021
2. Photos and messages
Next to the altar there are paintings and photos of important ancestors of the Kan, Han and Tan families. On the altar itself there are photos of their ancestors who died not so long ago. The signs show wishes from the family like ‘virtuous glory for a thousand years’ and ‘prosperity for a hundred generations’.
Peranakan; Jakarta, Indonesia; 1890-1910; wood, paper, paint; donation of Kan family, 2016; 7095-1 to 6 (photos are reproductions)
3. Altar house
This is the most important part of the altar. Inside is the censer to hold incense and the spirit tablets, which are planks of wood with the name of the ancestor and their descendants (their children, grandchildren etc.) written on them. The planks symbolise the family's ancestors. The smell of the incense helped the family to make contact with the ancestors.
Peranakan; Jakarta, Indonesia and China; 1890-1910; wood, ink; donation of Kan family, 2021
4. Table of food offerings
On special days of the year the family pulled the offerings table out from under the altar, and put things on it like noodles, sweet treats, fruit and tea. While the incense was burning, the ancestors could eat and drink these things. When the incense was all burnt up, the food had been blessed by the ancestors. Then the family would eat it.
Peranakan; Jakarta, Indonesia and China; 1890-1930; wood, ceramics; donation of Kan family, 2021; 7007-7 to 13, 7007-41 to 43, 7007-47
This silver plate was a very special gift. It was given to Tan Goan Piauw about 150 years ago. You can see him in the black-and-white photo to the right of the altar. He got it from the governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, which is now called Indonesia, to thank him for his work as the leader of the Chinese community in Bogor, a town in Java.
Jakarta; Indonesia; 1700-1725; silver; gift of Kan family, 2016; 7004-1