Saturday, April 23, 2011
Jawi Peranakan, the Malays of Penang
Jawi Peranakan, the Malays of Penang
Utusan Malaysia 27/5/2004
PENANG - "Mami ... Who's that crying mami?"
"Ooo..that's mami's child ... her name Chom Bee ..."
This is the dialogue line in the Malay film `Ibu Mertuaku' directed and starred by the nation' silver screen idol, the late Tan Sri P.Ramlee, portraying the life of a Jawi Peranakan or Jawi Pekan family in Penang.
Chom Bee is the contraction for the name Kalsom Bee in the Jawi Peranakan community. They have left their legacy in the country's history, they were the ones who introduced boria, published the first daily - Jawi Peranakan - and even were highly regarded by the British colonial masters. Just who are these people?
The Jawi Peranakan ethnic group, also known as "anak mami Tanjong", came into existence through inter marriages between the Malay community and migrants from India who settled down here during the colonial period.
From the sociological point of view, the Jawi Peranakan community is the result of a long amalgamation process whereby different ethnic groups combined biologically and culturally giving rise to a new group with its own unique identity.
Today, the easiest way to identify them are from their last or first names "Shaikh", "Khan", "Shah", "Merican" dan "Mah Wan". Differentiating them physically is difficult as they share similarities in looks, customs and traditions with the Malays and often branded as the Malays of Penang.
The president of the Penang Malay Association Datuk Mohamad Yusof Latiff said, the evolution of the Jawi Peranakan ethnic group began in 1800s when Penang was developing fast as commercial hub and a strategic port.
"During the British colonial period, ships from India came to the Island bringing spices and traders of Indian Muslim origin who later settled down in the island," he said.
With the passage of time this settlers gradually assimilated with the Malays. They married the local Malay women and adopted the Malay language, the Malay customs and tradition along with their own traditions.
Yusoff said, this combination of Malaysian and Indian culture over time created a notable culture and remained exclusive as until 1970s the majority of the Malay Peranakan people would only marry within their clan.
They speak the Malay loghat with some of the words neither found in the Indian or the Malay languages.
Among the words in their vocabulary are "siru" (show off, proud off), "haprak" (useless fellow), "kamjat" (useless), "peran" (mask), "kolom" (old fashioned, not neat), "merudum" (drastik fall), "cempera" (strewn, commotion), "balqo salam" (stupid), "ghoplah" (problematic, confusing), "lokoih" (wet). "arbok" (now pronounced as bohsia) and "ser" (lack sanity).
The same goes to pronouns like "cek" (me and you during conversation between an older and a younger person), "ba" (father), "kuntom" (relatives), "nana" (elder brother), "aci" (elder sister), "mami" (aunt) "mamu" and "mamak" (uncle).
For the Jawi Peranakan community Tamil is an alien language although the tone and the syntax has some resemblance to that language.
The Jawi Peranakan community added flavour to the nations rich gourmet offerings with their own blend of Indian and Malay cuisines. Johara Bee Abdul Rahman, 50, a chef, when met said the Jawi Peranakan people enjoy spicy thick curries added with "halba campur", an assortment of spices blended together.
Their `dalca' (curry made from lentil) is normally spiced up with "kas-kas" imported from India to enhance the taste. The members of the community normally have rice for lunch and bread for dinner and breakfast.
Among pastry of the community that Malaysians may be familiar with are "bamia" (made from flour, coconut milk, sugar and a kind of vermecelli known as semmia), bengkang suji and the `kuih cha'.
Even their houses follow a unique design - double storey houses half masonry and half wood with concrete staircase at the front. Another feature of their homes are the spacious verandah where visitors outside family are entertained.
The songkok or tarbus and the coat distinguishes a married man and the long kebaya the married women. For those unmarried damsels, they can be identified through their short kebaya.
An interesting feature to be noted among the women folk of the Jawi Peranakan people are that the dressing must be of the same colour from the shoes up to their hair ribbon.
Their priority for education were even recognised by the colonial masters. Due to their educational achievements many were given awards and entrusted with key positions. There were also well known figures in the education field who later became among the first Malays to hold key positions in the colonial government.
Among them were Abdullah Ariff, Aisha Hanum Dadameah, S.M.Zainal Abidin, Abdul Hamid Khan, Basha Merican Omar Merican, K.Sultan Merican.
The same goes to the businessmen from the community who were highly regarded by the colonial masters for their businesses acumen and philanthropy. One must take note that their financial contribution helped the British government to set up the first piped water system from Waterfall (now known as Taman Botani).
Among the prominent Jawi Peranakan businessmen in the state in 1800s were M.M. Noordin the owner of Noordin Estate in Seberang Perai who was known for his wealth and philanthropy and as a mark of respect the colonial government appointed him as the Penang Municipal Council (PMC) President and justice of peace.
His import-export business was thriving and he was so rich that he even employed a few British citizens to work in his household. The British who got wind of this and in order to save the embarrassment arrested the British employees and repatriated them back to England.
Another Jawi Peranakan tycoon, Ariff Wanchee Ariffin Mohamed owned so much land and buildings in the town and donated some to Penang Municipal Council and the State Islamic Council. The land donated to PMC today covers Jalan Ariffin dan Halaman Ariffin and the two mosque that he build carries his name Wanchee Ariffin.
Shaik Abdul Ghani a prominent son of the community became the first Malay navigator even before the Penang Port Authority came into existence. He amassed a vast fortune and owned real estates in Lorong Selamat and Jalan Burmah.
The Jawi Peranakan people were highly respected by the community due to the achievements and their status. They remained as a close knit clan until the 70s and this helped safeguard their heritage and traditions. Nevertheless, with intermarriages with the local Malays, there are fears that in time to come the Jawi Peranakan community would lose their distinct identity for good.
(Source - Bernama