Monday, September 10, 2007
The Malayalees Of Penang
Thanks to The Star and its feature The Penang Story for the information.
Malayalees are a southern Indian people from the Indian province of Kerala, west of Tamil Nadu.
They are perhaps India’s most multi-religious community, and possess the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
Malayalees, and Tamils, have long traded with Malaysia’s kingdoms of Kedah and Johor. Some ancient Malayalee and Tamil traders even married into Kedah and Johor royalty.
Malayalees, together with Tamils and Arabs, were instrumental in bringing Islam to Malaysia. After all, Kerala was India’s first Muslim province.
European colonialists, however, played a key role in boosting Malayalee migration to Malaysia. When the Portuguese conquered Melaka in 1511, they were joined by soldiers recruited from Kerala.
Some of Penang’s earliest Muslim teachers or Ulama from the Indian community were undoubtedly Malayalees and they included Fakir Melana whose tomb is in Datuk Keramat, George Town.
Syed Mustapha Idris or Datuk Koya was a respected religious teacher from the Malayalee community. He was also a much-loved humanitarian who helped the poor and sick, regardless of race or faith.
Narayana Pillai was an important Malayalee community leader and businessman in George Town. He migrated to Singapore shortly after the British acquired the island from the Sultan of Johor, and became an important contractor there.
Malayalee and Tamil Muslims frequently intermarried and thus, it is uncommon to find a purely Malayalee Muslim or purely Tamil Muslim in the island, and Malaysia, today.
Abdul Kadir Merican, a respected Indian Muslim leader of Tamil-Malayalee ancestry, established one of George Town’s most beloved mosques, the Kapitan Kling Mosque, named in his memory.
Kadir, who married a Kedah princess, was the patriarch of Malaysia’s illustrious Merican family which included as its members Malaysian Frank Sinatra Datuk Ahmad Daud, his actress and singer daughter Fauziah Ahmad Daud (Malaysia’s Jodie Foster and female Simon Cowell), First Lady of Malaysian Theatre Datuk Faridah Merican, Health Ministry Director-General Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican and composer Datuk Ahmad Merican.
Another famous Malayalee contractor was Ibrahim Kaka who built the George Town police headquarters in Penang Road.
He also built houses in Cheeseman Road, Hussain Road and Taylor Road, as well as the Penang UMNO headquarters in Zainal Abidin Road (formerly Jewish Road).
The UMNO headquarters was officiated by Malaysia’s first Prime Minister and ardent Penang fan Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra.
The Malayalees of Penang were known as daring construction workers. They played a key role in the completion of the Penang Hill railway in George Town, as well as the city’s Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple and Kebun Nyor Methodist Church.
Kaka’s contemporaries in the construction business included V. K. Ismail, T. A. Omar and B. Ismail.
P. K. Nambyar, a Malayalee from George Town, became the first president of the Malaysian Indian Association, formed in Taiping, Perak, in 1906. He was Malaysia’s first Indian lawyer.
He also founded the Penang Indian Association. Nambyar Road in George Town is named after him.
Nambyar’s son Dr N. K. Menon was actively involved in the Indian National Army formed by Subhas Chandra Bose of Bengal, to fight for India’s independence.
Menon also served in the George Town Municipal Council and headed the British Medical Association of Malaysia.
Nambyar’s son-in-law N. Raghavan, who also led the Penang Indian Association, was a prominent lawyer, and a founder of the Central Indian Association of Malaysia (CIAM) headed by Datuk Ernest Emmanuel Clough Thuraisingam.
And contrary to popular belief, pulled tea or teh tarik and roti canai or Tamil unleavened bread are Malayalee dishes, not Tamil ones.