Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Penang Indian

Malaysian Indians are a group of Malaysians largely descended from those who migrated from southern India during the British colonization of Malaya. Prior to British colonization, Tamils had been conspicuous in the archipelago much earlier, especially since the period of the powerful South India kingdom of the Cholas in the 11th century. By that time, Tamils were among the most important trading peoples of maritime Asia.

There is evidence of the existence of Indianized kingdoms such as Gangga Negara, Old Kedah, Srivijaya since approximately 1500 years ago. Early contact between the kingdoms of Tamilakkam and the Malay peninsula had been very close during the regimes of the Pallava Kings (from the 4th to the 9th Century C.E.) and Chola kings (from the 9th to the 13th Century C.E.). The trade relations the Tamil merchants had with the ports of Malaya led to the emergence of Indianized kingdoms like Kadaram (Old Kedah) and Langkasugam. Furthermore, Chola king Rajendra Chola I sent an expedition to Kadaram (Sri Vijaya) during the 11th century conquering that country on behalf of one of its rulers who sought his protection and to have established him on the throne. The Cholas had a powerful merchant and naval fleet in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Three kinds of craft are distinguished by the author of the Periplus – light coasting boats for local traffic, larger vessels of a more complicated structure and greater carrying capacity, and lastly the big ocean-going vessels that made the voyages to Malaya, Sumatra, and the Ganges.

The Migration

Many are descendants of emigrants who left thousands of years ago and mixed with countless other ethnicities, while others are recently removed from Tamil Nadu. The diaspora's identity is rooted in an ancient heritage, a rich language and literature and a vibrant culture that many still retain. Many groups claim descent from medieval-era Tamil emigrants such as the Chittys of Malaysia and the Colombo Chetty of Ceylon.

An early emigrant group that is not well documented is the Tamil Muslims who emigrated in considerable numbers to the Sultanates of Malacca (in present day Malaysia) and were instrumental in spreading Islam amongst the indigenous Malays.

The overwhelming majority of migrants from India were ethnic Tamil and from British Presidency of Madras. In 1947 they represented approximately 85 per cent of the total Indian population in Malaya and Singapore. Other South Indians, mainly Telugus and Malayalees, formed a further 14 per cent in 1947, and the remainder of the Indian community was accounted for by North Indians, principally Punjabis, Bengalis, Gujaratis, and Sindhis.

British acquisition of Penang, Melaka and Singapore - the Straits Settlements from 1786 to 1824 started a steady inflow of Indian labourers, traders, sepoys and convicts engaged in construction, commercial agriculture, defence and commerce. But large scale migration of Indians from the subcontinent to Malaysia followed the extension of British formal rule to the West coast Malay states from the 1870s onwards as British brought the Indians as workers to work in the rubber plantations. The Indian population in pre-independent Malaya and Singapore was predominantly adult males who were single with family back in India and Sri Lanka. Hence the population fluctuated frequently with the immigration and exodus of people. As early as 1901 the Indian population in the Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States was approximately 120,000. By 1931 there were 640,000 Indians in Malaya and Singapore and interestingly they even outnumbered the native Malays in the state of Selangor that year. The population was virtually stagnant until 1947 due to many leaving for Burma during the Japanese occupation as recruits for the Indian National Army and "Indentured Japanese labors" for the Death Railway.' At the time of Independence in 1957 it stood at a little over 820,000. In this last year Indians accounted for approximately 8 to 12 per cent of the total population of Malaysia (in the range 1.8 to 2.5 million) and 8 per cent in Singapore (250,000). There has also been a significant influx of Indian nationals into Singapore and Malaysia in recent years to work in construction, engineering, restaurants, IT and finance with many taking up permanent residence in Singapore where they account for nearly a quarter of the Singapore population.

Tamil Indian

Tamil Malaysian or Malaysian Tamil refer to the Malaysians of Tamil ethnic origin from India and Sri Lanka in Malaysia. They make up over 70% of the Indian Malaysian population group in Malaysia. Although bulk of the migration happened during the British colonial period there were established Tamil communities spanning a millennia.

Prior to British colonization, Tamils had been conspicuous in the archipelago much earlier, especially since the period of the powerful South India kingdom of the Cholas in the 11th century. By that time, Tamils were among the trading peoples of maritime Asia. Although bulk of these immigrants to South East Asia had assimilated with the majority Malay ethnic group some communities such as the Tamil Muslims and the Malacca Chittys are remnants of these earlier migration history.

During the British colonial era, Britain facilitated the migration of Indian workers to work in plantations. The overwhelming majority of migrants from India were ethnic Tamil and from British Presidency of Madras. In 1947 they represented approximately 85 per cent of the total Indian population in Malaya and Singapore. Other South Indians, mainly Malayalees and Telugus formed a further 14 per cent in 1947, and the remainder of the Indian community was accounted for by North Indians, principally Punjabis, Bengalis, Gujaratis, and Sindhi.There were, in addition, three further ethnic Tamil and religious groups whose political and economic importance in Malayasia far exceeded their numerical strength. Two were important business communities the Tamil Chettiars, a mercantile and money lending caste from Tamil Nadu, and the South Indian Muslims namely Moplahs from Kerala and Marakkayar from Tamil Nadu who were mainly wholesalers. The third group were the Sri Lankan Tamils also known locally as Ceylonese Tamils who were employed principally in the Civil Service and in the professions.

Trade contacts between the Tamils and Arabs & between the Tamils and East Indies antedate the Islamic period (circa 570-632 A.D.), or the birth of Islam. Indonesians and Malays came to know about Islam through the Muslim merchants of south India and not through Arab missionaries. Furthermore Islam had reached South India, particularly Tamil country in the 8th century A.D., while the state of Gujurat received Islam during the early 14th century, as a result of the invasion of the Delhi sultanate. Muslim traders of the Coromandel Coast are said to have been even politically influential in historical Malaya. In 1445 A.D. Tamil Muslim traders staged a coup at Malacca, installing a sultan of their choice. During the coming of Islam to Malaysia was the early decline of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Penang Indian

Indian in Penang are from various places in India,but the majority is from Tamil Naidu. Indian also divided into religion group, Indian Muslim and Indian Hindu, Indian Christian(include Indian Catholic, Indian Anglican etc). Indian Hindu is the majority, and Indian Christian is minority. Some of them are Anglo-Indian, which statically will not be under Indian, but others or Serani. There are also Jews, Persian or Parsi, Anglo-Indian, Tamil Muslim, Bihar Muslim from India; Anglo-Burmese and Rohingyas from Burma; Tamil, Muslim and Ceylonese from Sri Langka, and later the Pakistanis and Bangladeshi Muslim.

The Indian Muslim have formed their own separate group from the main stream Indian; they are fighting to be accept as Malay. Some of them like Jawi Peranakan, Mamak, have been assimilated into local Malay community. They even consider themselves as Penang Malay. But early Malay and Indonesian had been around in Penang much early than Capt Francis Light, they are the original Malay which are the people of Kedah Tua or Kedahan when Penang was part of Kedah.

Now even the Indonesia immigrant community(excluded the early Indonesian community who had assimilated into local Malay and is now a constitutional Malay), legal or illegal combined are larger than the Indian community.

Early Indian in Penang

Malayalee( Malabari)

A shrine called Keramat Tuah in Datuk Keramat which is said to have belonged to one Sangli Perappa. The grave,which possibly dates back to 1715, was also known by another name, Fakir Melana, who could have been a Malabari from India. This is
possible evidence of Indian settlement in Penang before the British acquired the island in 1786.

The task of tracing Malayalee contributions to Penang is complicated by the fact that the early wave of immigrants was largely Muslim. Their inter-marriage and assimilation into the local Muslim population makes it difficult to isolate their exclusive contributions since their identity as a separate community has diminished.

In contrast, the subsequent wave was predominantly Hindu and there was less inter-marriage with local Malays. Although this group has managed to preserve its unique identity, its contributions are equally difficult to isolate from early sources because most historians have placed them under the broad South Indian category.

1786 - The Choolias

"The Choolias, as Tamils from South India were known, were among the earliest of South Asians to arrive in Penang. Alaudin Meerah Hussein Lebai is mentioned as the founder of the Ariffin Mosque and Mesjid Kongsi. He is said to have arrived in Penang with Captain Francis Light, the British trader who acquired the island for the British government

1803 - Bengalis

The establishment of the Bengali Mosque in Leith Street in 1803. We do not know for sure this is a Bengali Mosque or Punjabi mosque, even the name is Bengali Mosque.

The Bengali people are an ethnic community native to the historic region of Bengal (now divided between Bangladesh and India) in South Asia. They speak Bengali (বাংলা Bangla), which is an Indo-Aryan language of the eastern Indian subcontinent, evolved from the Magadhi Prakrit and Sanskrit languages. In their native language, they are referred to as বাঙালী (pronounced Bangali). They are an Indo-Aryan people, though they are also descended from Mongolo-Dravidians, closely related to Austro-Asiatic, Dravidian, Assamese, East Indian, Sinhalese, Munda and Tibeto-Burman peoples. As such, Bengalis are a homogeneous but considerably diverse ethnic group with heterogeneous origins. They are mostly concentrated in Bangladesh and the states of West Bengal and Tripura in India. Rohingyas from Burma are Bangalis. After independence of Bangladesh, there is Bangladeshi Bengalis.

Many Malaysian wrongly called Pubjabic as Bengalis, which is great mistake. If the Bengalis Mosque is named due to the mistake, then the mosque indicated the historical arrival of Pubjabic people; otherwise it is the Bangalis or Biharis Muslim who established the mosque.

1821 Pubjabi Sepoys

There is also reference to Punjabi "sepoys" (soldiers) guarding the northern boundary of Province Wellesley in 1821.

The Punjabi people (Punjabi:ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ,پنجابی also Panjabi people) are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group from South Asia. They originate from the Punjab region, which has been host to some of the oldest civilizations in the world including one of the world's first and oldest civilizations, the Indus Valley Civilization. The Punjabi identity is primarily cultural and linguistic, with Punjabis being those whose first language is Punjabi, an Indo-European tongue.

Punjabis are mostly and primarily found in the Punjab region, of India and Pakistan, which forms the present Indian state of Punjab and Pakistan province of Punjab , this is because the Punjab region was divided between the two nations at independence from Britain. In Pakistan, Punjabis comprise the largest ethnic group at roughly 60% of the total population of the country and reside predominantly in the province of Punjab and Azad Kashmir. In India, Punjabis represent about 3% of the population. The majority of Punjabi-speaking people in India can be found across the greater Punjab region which comprises the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Besides these, large communities are also found in the Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian states of Rajasthan, Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh. Punjabis belong largely to three major religions: Islam (70%), Sikhism (18%) and Hinduism (10%) and also small numbers of Christianity, Jainism and Buddhist. Muslim Punjabis are the largest group in the Punjab region and are largely concentrated in Pakistan, though a small Muslim Punjabi population exists in India. Sikhism and Hinduism are the major religions followed by Punjabis in India, with Jainism being the largest minority religion that is followed largely by Punjabi Banias and Bhabra people.

The Punjabis people in Malaysia, including Penang are mainly Sikh, Muslim and Hindu.After the separation of Pakistan from India, there are Pakistani Punjabis and Indian Pubjabis. But Pubjabis is not Bengalis ,as wrongly called by local Malaysian.

1840 Punjabi Sikh

A more definite confirmation of their arrival lies in the actions of Maharaj
Singh and Kharak Singh, who were exiled to the Straits Settlements(comprising Penang, Malacca and Singapore) in the 1840s for their part in the Anglo-Sikh Wars. The majority of North Indians, he noted however, had come to the Federated Malay States and the Straits Settlements from the 1930s onwards, attracted by business and job opportunities.

1833 Tamils

Following the establishment of the British trading port in Penang, the English East India Company brought in Hindu labourers from South India to develop the new colony, while others came in as traders. An indication of their presence, he noted, was the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Queen Street, which was founded in 1833.

Tamils were brought in from the Tamilnadu state in India as indentured labourers
in the early 1800s. There were Tamils working in the departments of sanitation, water, electricity, engineering, veterinary, transport, public works and telecommunications.

In pre-Independent Malaya, Tamils dominated these industries as labourers. Many of their descendants have since become educated and moved into the middle-class.

Some of the Tamils in Argyll Road were apparently well off and they seemed to have owned well-built houses and travelled in horse-drawn carts.

Tamils also worked on the road to Penang Hill, which was completed in 1920. The present day Youth Park in Jalan Utama was once a quarry where many Tamils were engaged in quarry work. Apart from working in plantations in Gelugor, Sungai Nibong and Sungai Dua, Tamils were also engaged in the fishing industry in Tanjung Tokong and Telok Bahang.

The North Indian

North Indians were a colourful, interesting and important part of the vibrant multi-racial population of Penang. This population has not changed muchsince the mid-1900s, though many have moved to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in search for better prospects.

Many of the early businesses set up by the pioneer North Indians in Penang no longer exist. As a result of higher education, many descendants of the early settlers have become professionals instead of continuing in trade.

"Those businesses situated in the inner city areas of George Town are moving out or may even close as a result of the reduction of economic activity there. The repeal of the Rent Control Act has also had dire consequences for North Indian businesses in the 'Francis Light' grid of Beach Street, Bishop Street, Penang Street, King Street and Chulia Street.

The newcomers

Due to the political changes in the South Asia region, many newcomers from non-traditional areas were coming to Penang. Some from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, even Sri Langka, and Burma. The newcomers included Tamils, Malayalees, Punjabis, Pathans, Sindhis, Gujaratis, Marathis,Bengalis, Biharis, Oriyas and Uttar Pradeshis. In the following decades, they were joined by Iranian Muslims, Parsees, Nepali Hindus, Afghans and, even,in recent times, Kashmiris and Rohingyas.

Indian Muslim

Indian Muslim community was at its best in most ways when it unanimously and proudly identified itself as Indian Muslim. But, responding to economic and political developments in the country after independence, it has created for itself an identity crisis.

Analyst Hanapi Dollah had once said that the identity of Indian Muslims changed from Indian Muslim to Indian when they joined MIC and became Indian Muslim again when they formed KIMMA (Kesatuan India Muslim Malaya) and finally changed to Malay when they join Umno. This dilemma of identity has hindered their unity, diversified talents and efforts, and weakened the political strength they would have had, he said

MIC(The Malaysian Indian Congress)

The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC or Kongres India Se-Malaysia) (Tamil: மலேசியா இந்தியா காங்கிரெஸ்) is a Malaysian political party and is one of the founding members of the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, previously known as the Alliance, that has been in power since the country achieved independence in 1957.

The MIC was established in August 1946, at the end of World War II, to fight for Indian independence from British colonial rule. After India gained its independence, MIC involved itself in the struggle for the independence of Malaya (now Malaysia which was achieved in 1957. It positioned itself for representation on behalf of the Indian community in the post-war development of the country. The MIC joined the National Alliance comprising the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) in 1954 which became the Barisan Nasional in 1973 with further expansion in the number of component parties. The current head of the MIC is President Dato' Seri S. Samy Vellu.

Like the other racially based political parties in multi-racial Malaysia, membership in MIC is limited to ethnic Indians, the majority being Tamils descended from Indian migrants.

Note : (draft copy, still room for improvement)

Related articles:

1. MIC(Malaysian Indian Congress),
2. Call us Malays, say Indian Muslim youth, The New Straits Times Online dated March 3, 2008,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


(Video from

Penang (槟城) is a state in Malaysia, located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Strait of Malacca. Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia after Perlis, and the eighth most populous. A resident of Penang is colloquially known as a Penangite.

Penang island is a paradise for food lovers who come from all over Malaysia and even Singapore to sample the island's unique cuisine, earning Penang the nickname of the food capital of Malaysia. Penang was recognised as having the Best Street Food in Asia by TIME magazine in 2004, citing that nowhere else can such great tasting food be so cheap. Penang's cuisine reflects the Chinese, Nyonya, Malay and Indian ethnic mix of Malaysia, but is also strongly influenced by the cuisine of Thailand to the north. It's especially famous "hawker food", sold and eaten roadside, strongly features noodles and fresh seafood. Places to savour Penang's food are Gurney Drive, Pulau Tikus, New Lane, Swatow Lane, Penang Road and Chulia Street. Local Chinese restaurants serve excellent fare too. American fast food outlets and cafés are readily found throughout the state.

Penang's historic architecture is centred mainly in George Town. Its rows of 100 year-old shophouses and colonial villas give George Town its distinctive atmosphere. Penang was the venue for several historical movies, such as Anna and the King and the French film Indochine.

The best way to capture Penangs mixed heritage is to stroll around town. The aged buildings are noted for their faded colours and crumbling walls. Old houses have columns or multi-coloured Peranakan tiles. The Aceh Mosque is the oldest house of worship in the city. The smell of incense drifts in the air amidst gold settings of Burmese, Thai and Chinese temples. The Khoo Kongsi is a traditional form of Chinese art with its delicately carved wooden panels. Other long-time occupants include elderly Chinese shopkeepers, colourful Indian food stalls and trishaws with their drivers.

(source: wikipedia)

Street names of Georgetown - a heritage

Whenever a tourist come to Penang, the first essential thing to do is to have a map of Penang and Georgetown. It is the same whenever you visit any foreign country. The map will help you to locate the place you want to visit, the hotel you need to stay..., it is a guide and path finder for the first timer to the place/city.

Within the map, there are numerous roads and streets, with various names; it is not only for identification of the street, it also provide the historical background of the place. Especially the street names of Georgetown, it reflected the multicultural heritage of the city, the capital of a former British settlement of Penang, now part of Malaysia, which has a multiracial, largely Chinese population.

Original street names

Penang was "found" in 1786, the original Francis Light Grid or original town was within the border of Light Street, Chulia Street, Pitt Street, Beach Street. Except Light Street which was named after Capt Francis Light, the other street names are more simple. The Most streets in the city were built and named during the colonial era, and the historic English names generally remain and are still used by most Penangites. e.g. Light Strret, Borwn Road, Leith Street, Carnarvon Street, Kimberley Street, Farquhar Street, Macalister Road, Hutton Lane, which were named after colonial personality. Beach Street, Transfer Road, Penang Road, Magazine Road, Gaol Road etc are named after events and places, in English names. Khaw Sim Bee Road, Ah Kwee Street, Phuah Hin Leong Road, Cheong Fatt Tze Street, Keng Kwee Street, Che Em Lane etc, are named after Chinese personality during the strait settlement periods. Ariffin Court, Dato Kramat Road, Noordin Street, Tengku Kudin Road, Udini Road etc are after Muslim/Malay Personality. Some are named after the original inhabitants of the street e.g Chulia Street, China Street, Kampong Malabar Street, Jahudi Road, Malay Street, Burmah Road, Solok Serani etc. All these street names reflected the history of the street, the past of Georgetown's life, and today it is the heritage of Penang people.

The official street names after independence

Since the passage of the National Language Act 1967, government policy has been to use the Malay language for all official purposes, and the Malay translations of the street names are the primary official versions that are used on street signs, now supplemented with names in English (and, in some places, Chinese, Tamil and Arabic). But some overzealous officials have changed the original historical names and replaced with current Malay names, without retaining any trace of history for the said street, and the future generations.

The Unofficial street names

In addition to the official English and Malay names, many streets in central George Town have a mostly unrelated and original set of road names in Penang Hokkien, the dialects of the majority of Penang's majority Malaysian Chinese community. Many streets also have Cantonese names that are less well-known. As the Hokkien and Cantonese street names are not official, and are based on an oral tradition, some may be out of date. But the unofficial Chinese names are the one reflected the most historical value of the street, it revealed the happening of the past events/activities in the old days. The Chinese oral historical street names is an additional heritage asset to Peanng people.

Heritage Street Names & Conservation

Since independence, there have been some changes to the official names of some streets. On the whole, however, like Singapore and unlike many other cities in Malaysia, George Town has retained most of its colonial street names, although until recently they have been indicated on street signs only in their Malay translations.

Street Signs

Until 2007, street signs in George Town were only written in Malay, as a result of the national language policy. Unfortunately, this had the effect of confusing tourists, who found it difficult to match the English names commonly used by Penangites with the Malay names on street signs which were often very different. In the case of proper nouns, the English name is easily recognisable, e.g. Kimberley Street is Lebuh Kimberley. In other cases, however, the Malay translation may be unfamiliar to those who do not speak the language, e.g. Church St is literally translated as Lebuh Gereja (from the Portuguese igreja). A few streets have been given completely new names in Malay.

Even where official street names have changed, the local population have largely continued informally to use the old names when referring to streets. This is partly because the new names are often unwieldy (e.g. Green Lane vs Jalan Masjid Negeri, Pitt Street vs Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, or Northam Road vs Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah), but also reflects a strong conservatism in the local population, who see Penang's colonial history as part of their local identity. When Scott Road was renamed Jalan D S Ramanathan, after the first Mayor of the City of George Town, the new street signs were repeatedly defaced and had to be replaced several times, eventually forcing the city authorities to fix a replacement street sign fifteen feet up a lamppost (instead of at waist-height, as was then usual).

Standard Translation

In translating the English words for street, road, lane, etc., the city authorities follow a fairly regular system to avoid confusion between many streets of similar names. There are exceptions to this rule where the historic Malay usage is different and there is no chance of confusion, e.g. Hutton Lane has always been known as Jalan Hutton (see e.g. the Mesjid Jalan Hatin mosque) rather than *Lorong Hutton.

* Avenue - Lebuhraya (e.g. Peel Avenue/Lebuhraya Peel; context usually prevents confusion with the normal meaning of lebuhraya, viz. highway/expressway)
* Circus - Lilitan (e.g. Hargreaves Circus/Lilitan Hargreaves)
* Close - Solok (e.g. Scott Close/Solok Scott)
* Court - Halaman (e.g. Cantonment Court/Halaman Cantonment)
* Crescent - Lengkok (e.g. Jesselton Crescent/Lengkok Jesselton)
* Cross - Lintang (e.g. Burmah Cross/Lintang Burma)
* Drive - Persiaran (e.g. Gurney Drive/Pesiaran Gurney)
* Gardens - Taman (e.g. Western Gardens/Taman Western)
* Lane - Lorong (e.g. Prangin Lane/Lorong Perangin)
* Place - Pesara (e.g. Claimant Place/Pesara Claimant)
* Quay - Pengkalan (e.g. Weld Quay/Pengkalan Weld)
* Road - Jalan (e.g. Perak Road/Jalan Perak)
* Square - Medan (e.g. College Square/Medan Maktab; also used for some new square-shaped roads that are not open squares, e.g. Medan York)
* Street - Lebuh (e.g. Campbell Street/Lebuh Campbell)
* Street Ghaut - Gat Lebuh (e.g. China Street Ghaut/Gat Lebuh China)

The word "Ghaut" at the end of some street names reflects the fact that they are extensions of the original streets beyond the original waterfront at Beach St with the reclamation of the Ghauts and the construction of Weld Quay, ghat being a Hindi and Bengali word meaning a flight of steps leading down to a body of water.

(source: Adopted from wikipedia with some variation)

If the tourist visit Georgetown, today we are proud to tell them the history of Georgetown, from the street names. If the street names are changed without regard to history, what can we tell the visitors?. If you named or replaced a street name with Jalan Hang Tuah, what is the Malacca name related to Penang?, it is not relevant to the visitor, and it will lost the trace of history reflected in the original names, and the opportunity to tell the history related to the original street names. History is his-story, street names are the history of the street, the story of the street.......please don't kill the heritage street names of Georgetown......
and if you do that, you kill the tourist money....let the new names use for new streets.

Isn't it stupid to destroy our own heritage? don't simply change the street names...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Penang Eurasian

The meaning of Eurasian

Eurasian is the combination of two words, Europe and Asia, or Euro-Asia. It refer to the people of two continents. The British began using the term Eurasian in 1844 British India to refer to Anglo-Indians of mixed British and Indian descent. But the meaning has extend to include the person born to anyone of the European and Asian parentage or someone with one Caucasian parent and one Asian parent. It can be Anglo-Indian,Anglo-Burmese, Anglo-Chinese,Portuguese-Malay, Portuguese-Indian, Dutch-Indonesian, French-Vietnamese, French-Cambodian etc

Many Eurasian ethnic groups arose during the Mongol invasion of Europe and the colonial occupation of Asian regions by European states and private corporations, that started with the great wave of European naval expansion and exploration in the 16th century and continues to the present. The main European colonial powers were Spain and Portugal in the 16th century, followed by the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and France from the 17th century onwards. The Philippines has the world's largest Eurasian population.

As the name suggests, Eurasian are descendants of a marital union between a European and an Asian. They are considered living testimony and descendants of the Europeans who came to this part of the world between the 16th and 18th Century. These were during the colonial eras of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British. Yet Eurasian do have an Asian element to their heritage. For some it would be on the maternal side generations ago, for others it would be the fact that they were born on Asian soil. Nonetheless, they are recognized as one of the domiciled communities of Malaysia/Singapore as Eurasian.

Eurasian in Strait Settlement

Eurasians are one of earliest residents in Strait Settlement. The origins are linked to various ports in the region, where Europeans had settled in, including Malacca, Goa, Ceylon, Bencoolen, Macao and Penang. Some of the earliest recorded Eurasians in Strait Settlement, some as early as 1786s, came with Capt Francis Light from Phuket, Raffles from Beencolen, or from Malacca. They may be Eurasian from Ceylon(Dutch Burghers and the Portuguese Burghers), India(Anglo-Indian), Burma(Anglo-Burmese), Siam, Indonesia who migrated to Strait Settlement,they may also some from Philippines(Filipino-Spanish). Later on there were local born Eurasian family.

These early Eurasian family names include Ferrao (1820), Dias (1821), D’Almeida (1825), Leicester (1826-27), Woodford (1836), McIntyre (1939), Sequeira (1837), Oliveiro (1844), Gomes (1949), De Rozario (1849) and Clarke (1850s) to name a few.

The term “Eurasian” was perhaps first used officially in the Straits Settlements records in 1849, in the population census encompassed several smaller ethnic groups. The Eurasians of British Malaya and North Borneo (corresponding to modern day Malaysia) were classified as 'Eurasians' by the British colonial administration in the 1920s. Prior to this the Eurasians were referred to either as Anglo-Indians (for those with British or Irish surnames), Dutch Burghers (for those with Dutch or German surnames) or Portuguese Descendants or Mestizos (for those with Portuguese and French surnames). The Malays just labelled all Eurasians as "Serani" which originally meant Christians. The fact that the Portuguese Mestizos of Malacca refer to their patois as "Kristang" (Christian tongue) is an affirmation of what the Malays were calling them by the 18th century.

Originally, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Malays called the Portuguese "Feringgi" which has a common origin with the Thai word, "Farang" which today refers to European foreigners. In the British colonial era (lasting from 1786 to 1957), the English-speaking Anglo-Indians were at the top of the Eurasian hierarchy, followed by the Dutch Burghers and then only by the Portuguese Descendants. The Anglo-Indians came over with the British East India Company and later with the British colonial administration as soldiers and low level civil servants. The Dutch Burghers were the descendants of European employees of the Dutch East India Company married to Portuguese Mestizos or Asians. The Portuguese Descendants were the result of marriages of Portuguese adventurers/colonists and Asians.

Prior to this, the population census included groups that came from various regions – Native Christians (which included the Luso-Malays, Serani or Kristiang communities from Peninsula Malaya), Indo-Britons (which included the Anglo-Indians, Luso-Indians, Ceylon Burghers, Dutch Burghers and Portuguese Mechanics), Armenians and Jews. But Penang Eurasian were popularly referred to as Portuguese or Portuguese Descendants or Roman Catholics or Serani [by local Malays] and by other names in countries experiencing them during the Portuguese/Spanish World Supremacy of 711AD - 1641AD.

Early Spain & Portugal

In retrospect, it all began in Spain and the intermarriages of the Spanish and the Moors. Their Roman Catholic descendants, once often referred to as Lusitanians, became a strong force in the breakaway from Spain and the formation of Portugal, and in the Voyages of Discovery that paved the way for the development of the Portuguese Trade Routes. Portugal's Foreign Policy was based on the 3 Gs - Glory, Gold and Gospel [in no preferential order]. In keeping with their missionary endeavours, Portugal had no reservations about accepting offsprings [of any shade, shape or size] of their citizens to being called Portuguese, through out their trade routes.

When the Portuguese came to Malacca in 1511 their offsprings were referred to as Luso-Malays [an obvious reference to the intermarriages of Portuguese (Lusitanians) and Malays and others found in world trading centers of the time]. These Malacca Portuguese, as they may be referred to, were Traders in support of and part of the Portuguese Trade Route of Malacca - "Penang (Batu Feringgi, Pulau Tikus) - Kedah (Kuala Kedah)"(or even to Phuket?), as well as Fishermen and odd-job workers in the Church Schools.

Eurasians are rich heirs to a hybrid of traditions and customs from both the East and West. Most are of the Christian faith, with religious celebrations being an integral part of their lifestyle. Having passed several generations, with interesting family trees, mostly Asians yet with shades of European ancestry, heritage and upbringing, hence the term, “Eurasian”. Some may recognizably look more Asian, but their foremost link to the European ancestry is their family surnames.


The origins of the first Eurasian community probably began when the Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511 and ruled for 130 years. Some of them stayed behind and formed a fishing community that has lasted till today. Over the years, the Portuguese inter-married within the local population and are now collectively referred to as Portuguese-Eurasian or Kristang and they usually speak a distinct language which is a Creole (fusion of two languages) based on Portuguese and Malay. As devout Catholics, the community celebrates various religious festivals which can still be witnessed throughout the year at the Portuguese Square within their settlement. Also referred to as the Luso-Malays, the Portuguese Eurasians have retained significant aspects of their Portuguese heritage even though they have assimilated into the dominant Malay culture.

Today, 2000 national census numbered the Malaysian Eurasians at 12,650 out of a total population of 23.3 million. Many have migrated to other countries, especially Australia. The population of Eurasian is declining.


The early history of Eurasian in Penang Eurasian is similar to the history of Penang Catholic, as most of early Eurasian were Catholic, and the early settlement are around the Catholic Church.

Penang Eurasian

The Malaysian National Census 2000 indicates that the population of the Penang Eurasian Community[Serani] is 1,469; which is 11.6% of the Eurasian Malaysian Population of 12,650. The Penang Eurasian Community, in the National Census, is classified under 'Others' as being 0.4% or 5254 of the Total Penang Population of 1,313,449.

The first wave of Catholics landed in Penang at the urging of Capt. Francis Light, who needed skilled persons to aid in his development of the island. These settlers were Thai-Portuguese who had embarked from Kuala Kedah after their brief stay there, having fled Phuket earlier, from the Burmese occupiers' orders to massacre all Christians. They landed on 15 August 1778, on the feast of the Assumption, and settled in the area around Bishop and Church Streets. These settlers were the pioneers of Penang's first Catholic parish, the Church of the Assumption, at Farquhar Street.

Penang was part of the sultanate of Kedah until Captain Francis Light established the British trading post for the East India Company on the island. Light first landed at the site of Fort Cornwallis to take possession of the island in 1786. He supposedly encouraged the local inhabitants to clear the ironwood trees by firing coins out of the cannon into the forested swamp.

It was Light who laid the grid of the commercial town, bounded by Light Street (now Lebuh Light), Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai), Pitt Street (Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling) and Chulia Street (Lebuh Chulia). Beach Street then ran along the beach and Pitt Street was reserved for places of worship.

A handful of military and civilian Europeans settled along Light Street. The Eurasians from Kuala Kedah and Phuket settled along Bishop Street (Lebuh Bishop) and Church Street (Lebuh Gereja). The Straits Chinese traders from Kedah and Malacca settled along China Street (Lebuh China). The various ethnic groups mingled at Market Street (Lebuh Pasar). The early Indian traders, of whom the majority were Tamil Muslims, settled along Chulia Street.

The Eurasian community in Penang started with the arrival of the British in 1786. Responding to the invitation of Captain Francis Light, the first group of Eurasians, who had settled in Kedah, landed in Penang on 15 August 1786, the eve of the Feast of the Assumption. This community set up an enclave in China Street and Bishop Street. They built a wooden church and called it "Assumption Church". The two most significant traits of the Eurasians at that time were a Roman Catholic religion and a command of the English language, unique at the time among the various races.

The first Eurasian arrivals in Penang settled in town in the area bordered by Church Street, Bishop Street, Pitt Street and China Street, in rather rudimentary housing, before moving with their church, the Church of Assumption (so named because they arrived in Penang on the day of the Catholic Feast of the Assumption), to the Farquhar Street area, settling along Argus Lane.

In 1810, a group of Portuguese Eurasians relocated from Phuket to Penang, They settled in Pulau Tikus. The focal point of this Catholic community was the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which they built. A school, commonly known as "Noah's Ark", was eventually built to serve the community, which lived in areas surrounding the church. This whole area came to be known as "Kampong Serani" (or "Eurasian Village"). There are others who come from Kuala Kedah,the Eurasian who had escaped from Siam earlier, also settle in Penang island.

Traders and settlers come from Europe, the Arab world, India and China to the port of Penang. They also come from other parts of the Malay archipelago, Thailand and Burma. For almost all of the first hundred years of Penang's history, the most important items of regional trade were pepper from the Achehnese ports, spices such as clove and nutmeg from the local plantations, and textiles from India. Tin gained importance later on and then rubber.

By the early 1800s, the town was extended by two more streets -Armenian Street for the Armenians and Acheen Street for the local community comprising Achehnese, other Sumatrans and Malays. Each ethnic group was allotted its own street with a section of the waterfront along Beach Street. However Penang was established without the formal segregation that characterized the foundation of other colonial towns like Singapore, Hong Kong or Yokohama.

Later there are English, Scottish, Irish, Jews, Armenian, German, etc who come as professionals, traders, skilled craftsman, civilian or military man. Many of them married the local girls, and started the new generation of Eurasians.

The Church of the Assumption, Farquhar Street

The Church of the Assumption at 3, Farquhar Street, George Town, was built by the Eurasians who followed Captain Francis Light to Penang when he established it as a British trading post. The Eurasians originally living in Ligor and Phuket were facing religious persecution. In 1781, they fled to Kuala Kedah, led by Bishop Arnaud-Antoine Garnault of Siam. In Kuala Kedah, they were joined by another 80 Catholics of Portuguese descent who had made Kuala Kedah their home. Some had come from southern Siam, while others had left Malacca after the Dutch conquest.

Before founding Penang, Francis Light and his business partner James Scott had a trading business all along the coast of Kedah. This, I believe, was how Light came into contact with the Eurasians of Kuala Kedah. He spoke the local languages and was familiar with the Sultan of Kedah, so he could well commiserate with the plight of the Eurasians. Moreover, he had a common law wife by the name of Martina Rozells who was a Eurasian of Thai-Portuguese descent

When Francis Light got the Sultan of Kedah's approval to open a trading post on Penang, Bishop Garnault sought his help to relocate his Catholic mission there. Light agreed to help, and sent his ship Speedwell to assist in the exodus. The first group of Catholics landed in Penang landed on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, in 1786, and celebrated their deliverance from persecution by so naming their church as the Church of the Assumption. Its original location was on Church Street. Bishop Garnault's presbytery was located on the adjacent road, which became known as Bishop Street.

In 1857, the Church of the Assumption moved to its present site on Farquhar Street which was previously occupied by the Convent Orphanage. (In some records that I studied, it stated that the church moved to Farquhar Street in 1802 - it could be that the congregation moved to Farquhar street, but the church building was only erected from 1857? Anybody with clarification on this is requested to write to me.) The present building was erected in 1860, under the leadership of Father Manissol. When it was completed in 1861, it could hold 1200 worshippers. The building underwent an extension in 1928, when two wings were added to it.

In 1955, the Church of the Assumption was elevated by a Decreee of the Vatican, to the status of the Cathedral of the Diocese of Penang. The sanctuary was renovated for the setting up of the seat for the first Bishop of Penang, the Right Reverend Monsignor Francis Chan. From the 1970's onwards, a gradual shift in the population of Penang Island away from and into the suburban areas, resulting in a marked decreased in the size of the church congregation within the city area. In 1988, a decision was made to amalgamate the four parishes in George Town into one, bringing the Cathedral of the Assumption, the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, St Francis Xavier Church and St John Britto Church, until then individual parishes, into the same umbrella of "City Parish". The status of Cathedral Church held by the Cathedral of the Assumption was transferred in 2003 to the Church of the Holy Spirit in Island Park, and the Farquhar Street Cathedral became once more Church of the Assumption.

Today, the Catholic community linked to the Church of the Assumption has been reduced to just a few homes lucked away on Argus Lane, before the cathedral.

Map of Kampong Serani, Pulau Tikus

View Larger Map

Pulau Tikus
Exodus From Phuket

In 1811, the Burmese massacre of Christians extended to Phuket. As a result, Fr. John Baptist Pasqual decided to move his parish, and the remnants of the Thai-Portuguese Catholic Community (the parishioners of the Church of Our Lady Free From Sin, a reference to Mother Mary which the Pope later changed to The Immaculate Conception) also made their way to Penang.

Founding of Parish

Fr. Pasqual and his parishioners sought refuge in a Pulau Tikus already mainly settled by Thai-Portuguese Catholics most of whom also came from Phuket and Kuala Kedah and were his relatives and friends. On land set aside for burials in Pulau Tikus by this community, he set up his Church, similar in name to that in Phuket – The Church of the Immaculate Conception. It was but a rudimentary structure - in a tent with the dead buried around it. The site of this first church is marked today by a cenotaph in the middle of the Kelawei Road Cemetery. Thus our parish was born.

The Early Years

It is believed that Thomasia Pasqual (Fr. Pasqual’s relative), and other families such as the Leandros, the Jeremiahs, the Gregorys and the Josephs gave their lands between the present College Lane and Leandros Lane to Fr. Pasqual, and this is where he built the first permanent church, made of planks and covered with attap (on the site of our present church). The neighbouring land was for poor Catholic parishioners (on the site of present-day Bellisa Row & Bellisa Court).

After setting up his parish community in Penang, Fr. Pasqual is known to have returned to a similar Thai-Portuguese Catholic Settlement called Santa Cruz which is just outside Bangkok. Thereafter, French MEP* priests based at the old College General seminary (situated at the junction of College Lane and Kelawei Road) took over the affairs of the parish.

Of Saints and Martyrs

One of these MEP priests was Fr. Jacques Chastan (1803-1839), who served as the 4th parish priest. He was in Penang from 1827-1833, serving as a professor at College General from 1828-1830, and as our parish priest from 1830-1833. In 1833, he left for Korea to do missionary work. In 1839, he surrendered himself to the authorities to protect the faithful, with the hope that his sacrifice would stop the persecution of the Catholics in Korea. He was tortured and beheaded together with Bishop Laurent Imbert. In 1984, His Holiness Pope John Paul II canonized Fr. Chastan.

Growth in Stone, in Service and in Spirit

The original church which Fr. Pasqual built lasted until 1835 when it was replaced with a brick church by the 5th parish priest, Fr. Bohet.

On the adjoining site, Fr. Bohet also built two ‘church schools’, one for the Catholic boys (traditionally known as ‘Noah’s Ark’ for its similarities and later as the original St. Xavier’s Branch School of the La Salle Brothers), and the other for Catholic Girls (later known as the Pulau Tikus Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Sisters).

In 1897, renovations were carried out on the brick church. However, in August 1898, the brick ceiling collapsed and caused considerable damage to the walls. Fr. Damais, the 11th parish priest, rebuilt the church, which was later blessed on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception in 1899.

This church survived until the late 1960s. To accommodate the growing Catholic population in and around Pulau Tikus, the 25th parish priest, Fr. Louis Ashness further renovated the church, considerably altering the façade to what it is today.

In Pulau Tikus, there were pockets of Malayan/Thai-Portuguese Catholics settled, long before the arrival of Francis Light, in between the estuaries of Bagan Jermal Road and Cantonment Road. This area roughly corresponds with our parish BEC Zone 10. Stories from the early settlers tell of their arrival during the Portuguese Trading operations, which had stopovers at Batu Ferringhi and Pulau Tikus.

In 1810, a group of Portuguese Eurasians relocated from Phuket to Penang and settled in Pulau Tikus.

The Eurasians were another early group to settle in Pulau Tikus. They are of mixed parentage, between the Portuguese and the Thais, and are Roman Catholics. The people of Portuguese descent had had no peace to practise their faith since the Dutch arrive in Malacca in 1641. Religious persecution drove them out of Malacca. They settled in various Malay states as well as in Phuket, which at that time was called Ujung Salang (corrupted in English to Junk Ceylon), an island claimed by the Kingdom of Kedah but ruled by Siam. By the late 18th century, the Eurasians were on the run again, this time due to a decree by the increasingly demented king of Siam, Phraya Taksin @ Phya Tak, who ordered all Christians in Siam to be massacred. The Eurasians fled to Kuala Kedah, and from there, they made their way to Penang.

There were still remnants of Eurasian community in Phuket going into the 19th century, until the Phya Tak Massacre of 1810 forced another group to Penang. Pulau Tikus had become an attractive location to settle down. They were parishioners of the Church of Our Lady Free From Sin. They arrived in 1811, headed by Father John Baptist Pasqual. In Pulau Tikus they built their church which the pope later renamed The Immaculate Conception.

The focal point of this Catholic community was the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which they built and is today still being used. A school, commonly known as "Noah's Ark", was eventually built to serve the community, which continues to live in areas surrounding the church.

This whole area came to be known as Kampung Serani (or "Eurasian Village").

Eurasian community in Penang were the pioneer students in the missionary schools which were first set up in Penang in 1852. "Education was their strong point and later they went on to serve in the civil service, joined the armed forces and served as educators in the same missionary schools where they received their education.

Church of Immaculate Conception, Pulau Tikus

The Church of Immaculate Conception along Burmah Road in Pulau Tikus, Penang, was founded by Portuguese Eurasians who came to settle in Penang to escape persecution in Phuket. They were the latecomers - an earlier wave of Catholic immigrants arrived in Penang on the invitation of Francis Light, and had founded the Church of the Assumption. The Catholic community in Phuket, although dwindling in numbers, stayed put in Phuket until the Phya Tak Massacre of 1810, which propelled them to leave.

The Eurasians, or Serani as they were locally called, adopted local elements such as speaking Malay, and live in kampong houses, similar to the Portuguese settlement in Malacca. There was a sizable Eurasian community in the Pulau Tikus area of Kelawai Road, so much so that there once was a Kampong Serani, and road names such as Leandro's Lane bear their imprint.

The church was built in 1811. The present building of the Church of Immaculate Conception was erected in 1899, and was last renovated in the 1970s. The characteristic of the church has gradually turned from Eurasians to Chinese, as the Eurasian community of Pulau Tikus was gradually erased and taken over by the Chinese population of Penang.

The first local trained doctors 1910 - 2 Eurasian from Penang

The Medical School in Singapore was founded on 3 July 1905; it was named the Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School. It was the forerunner of the Faculty of Medicine, National University of Singapore(NUS). This year (2005), the Faculty of Medicine (NUS)and the NUS celebrate their centenaries. When the Medical School started in 1905 it was a 5-year course and the students graduated with an LMS Diploma (Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery). The pioneer group of 7 that graduated in May 1910 (the Magnificent Seven), included two Eurasians from Penang. Drs Willie Carnegie and Mark W Chill from Penang.

Kampong Serani

Kampong Serani (Serani is a local term for Eurasian) Serani to mean. “Nazarene” is an old synonym for Eurasian. The final section of Burmah Road, from Cantonment Road to Gottlieb Road, was traditionally a Eurasian settlement - called Kampung Serani - their presence is most conspicuously represented by the Church of Immaculate Conception, Noah Ark, and road with names such as Leandro's Lane.

Kampong Serani was an urban village on 1 4.8 acres site, consist of 150 working class residents who were predominantly Eurasian. The house also sub rent to Indian Catholic families and Chinese Catholic family. The title to the land was registered under Titular Catholic Bishop of Penang. The residents were the tenants of the Church. The village consist of 13 village houses of which the church owned three, two sheds, a coffin making company, and a building known as Noah Ark. The kampong house or village houses are wooden houses with zinc roof. Noah Ark was the largest structure, but the most dilapidated. The building was named Noah Ark because it was reported it resemble a ship. It was build over hundreds years by a Pulau Tikus parish priest, as first village school in Pulau Tikus.

The church jointly developed Kampong Serani into high end condominium, resulted in protest by the Penang Eurasian Association. The incident is called Kampong Serani Conflict, and such a historical site was gone.

Legacies left by early Eurasian - Kampong Serani

It will be a pity if there is nothing left from the Kampong Serani, as this is the early settlement of early Eurasian. The Serani or Eurasian, unlike Eurasian in Malacca are fully westernized, which is easily assimilated into the western culture, except their food and their names, the few road names left, and the church and the Convent Pulau Tikus. As for school, there were story of how the new headmaster took down/replaced some legacy of missionary schools in Penang, it is high time the Eurasian stand up to protect their legacies, especially the school, otherwise the character of the missionary catholic school will be erased by either ignorant headmaster or narrow minded headmaster in due time. The Eurasian history will be gone, and look like ordinary school with only names remained. As a heritage city, the head of the school should learn to protect the heritage school building and their tradition, otherwise the said headmaster has failed its responsibility, and have no place in missionary schools.

Just have a walk in some top missionary schools,and you will find something is different, something is missing.... is it the spirit of the missionary school? the missing of its relic? the traditional teaching of early nuns and fathers?....or Eurasian teachers are lacking?..

Just look at St George Girls' School, Penang Free School; do you think they are still missionary schools? just the names left.....

Road Names

College square(Medan Maktab)
College Avenue(Lebuhraya Maktab)
College Lane( Lorong Maktab)
Leandros Lane (Lorong Leandros)
Leandros Close(Solok Leandros)
Serani Close(Solok Serani)


Church of The Immaculate Conception


Convent Pulau Tikus(Sekolah Kebangsaan Convent Pulau Tikus)

The family names of Penang Eurasian

Aeria family - Fred Aeria(teacher of SXI,1903), Freddy Aeria(teacher of SXI, 1903), Dunstan Aeria(1888 Centenary Scholarship holder), J. Aeria(1906 Queen's Scholarship holder), P.A.Aeria(rank 9th in Top Ten Boys for the 1923 Junior Scholarship). The Aeria family is still around in Penang. The notable names are Associate Professor Dr Andrew Aeria(Universiti Malaysia Sarawak), Michael Aeria( The Star, Group Chief Editor 2006-2007, now chief operating officer of the Multimedia Business Division, CEO, Star Rediffusion Sdn Bhd), Alban Aeria(a banker), George Aeria(Tanjung Bunga Residents' Association chairman) etc

The other family names are:
de Cruz family -
Scully family
Robless family
Karl family
Reuten family
Boudville family
Westwood family

Note: This is not a complete list, it can be further improve or update.

The Penang Eurasian Association(PEA)

The Eurasian in Penang are represented by The Penang Eurasian Association(PEA). It was set up in 1919.

The Heritage House @ Solok Serani
107-A Jalan Kelawei, 10250 Penang
Tel: 604-2260354

Related articles:

1. Stand off over future of Penang Eurasian Legacy, NST dated 20-3-1992,,3755657
2. Wong set to retire, Aeria to take over, The Star dated 9-9-2006,
3.The History of Penang Eurasians, by Dr. Anthony E. Sibert PJK
4.The Malaysian Dutch Descendants Project (MDDP),
5. The Selangor & Federal Territory Eurasian Association,
6. The Eurasian Association, Singapore,
7. Kristang people,

Friday, March 19, 2010

Penang is called Koh Maak, not Koh Opium

Penang is called Koh Maak by Siamese. You do not believe, below is the extract from You do not need to agree with what the blogger said, but it is good to know Penang have another name, Koh Maak.

Below is the extract from the blog:

A Chronicle of Siam's 14 Boundary Losses

" Siam's independence, during the past two hundred years, came under serious threat from foreign powers, and only the astute rule of King Chulalongkorn in the late 19th century saved the country from being swallowed by Britain and France, like much of the rest of Southeast Asia. Siam did, however, suffer some fourteen boundary losses; eight of them to Britain and France, and the rest to neighboring countries. The following lands were lost to foreign states:

1. 11th Aug. 1786: Britain took control of Penang, or Koh Maak, a 375 sq kms. island ceded to the British East India Company by the Sultan of Keddah, in return for protection against the armies of neighboring Siam and Burma."

Betel Nut Island, an ancient name

Penang was part of Kedah before 1786, and Kedah was the vassal state of Siam. Koh Maak(เกาะหมาก) Koh or Ko(เกาะ)is Siamese for island, maak(หมาก)is for Areca nut. Koh Maak is areca nut island. The Areca nut is the seed of the Areca palm (Areca catechu), which grows in much of the tropical Pacific, Asia, and parts of east Africa. It is commonly but perhaps erroneously referred to as "Betel Nut.".

Still cannot get it? Betel Nut in Malay is Pinang, Pulau Pinang is Betel nut island. The old colonist called it Pulo Pinang. Pulo/Puilau is Malay word for island, Pinang is betel nut. Koh Maak is Pulo Pinang, Pulau Pinang, and betel nut island. Latter on, Pinang become Penang, the corrupted version of Malay by colonist.

The island was referred to as Bīnláng Yù (檳榔嶼, 槟榔屿) in the navigational drawings used by Admiral Zheng He of Ming-dynasty China in his expeditions to the South Seas in the 15th century. Bin-lang(檳榔)is areca nut in Chinese, yu(嶼)is island in Chinese. Binland-yu(槟榔屿) is betel nut island. Admiral Zheng He knew it was named Betel Island in 15th century, the Siamese knew it was Koh Maak, in the old days before it was found by Capt Francis Light. The name of Pulau Pinang must be known to the trader of sea spice route before 15th century. Bīnláng Yù (檳榔嶼) is Koh Maak(เกาะหมาก), Pulo Pinang, Pulau Pinang and is betel nut island.... Penang island.

The Chinese, Siamese, Colonist, Kedah Malay or Achenese, Minankabou, and other Indonesian all called it Betel nut island. So, most of the traders knew it was named Betel Nut Island long time ago before 1786. The island must have found before Capt Francis Light. But since that place is insignificant, compared to other more developed ports in Sumatra, Pattani, Malacca etc, it remain as fishing village, a quite peaceful island, and occasionally the trade merchant ships come for water, until Capt Francis Light cheated the Sultan of Kedah for the island.

The island was turned into opium storage port for EIC(East Indian Company)for opium from India to China. It was turned into an opium island, which had resulted in many Asian, especially Chinese suffered the addiction, and the start of Opium Wars, and many have to leave their homeland due to the wars, and many faced humiliation, suffering, slavery and even death. The colonists and its traders, agent, revenue farmers profited from the sinful trade. However, Capt Francis Light, and its friends from the Scotland, with the efforts of the other early pioneers. The Chinese traders from Phuket, Kedah and Malacca, Chulia traders from India, Acheh traders from Sumatra, Arabs from India and Sumatra, the Eurasian from Phuket, together built the island to become a trading port. The European planters, the Chinese planters, the Indian estate workers, the local Malay worked hard to make Penang an agricultural producers of peppers, nutmeg, sugarcane, spices etc. All the effort of the early Penang people, their pioneering spirit which make the Penang today. It become the Pearl of Orient.

Opium Island, are we opium of the island?

The original name is Pulo Pinang....for betel nuts, not opium. Betel nut is better than opium. Lucky the early pioneer did not allow the island to be opium island forever. Luckily the island is not renamed Pulau Opium, but Penang island.

The person who take betel nut, may be called Mat Maak by Siamese?... just guessing.....

The world no longer refer Penang as Pearl of Orient, we know why. We lost our pride to make our island the best, at least good for tourists. The dirty beach, the dirty river, the dirty street, the dirty this and that; the spirit of togetherness was affected, the racial and religion sensitivity were raised; the conservation of heritage buildings were overlooked ; the over development of the island, over development on the hill slope, the poor urban planning, the traffic congestion, .......we forgot we are Pearl of Orient, we have harmony street/Pitt street, we have tolerance in our culture and food, we take Roti Canai, we take rojak, we take cendol, tek tarik, mamak stall, the happening and the time that we are so proud together. No one is marginalized by the state,unless he want to self-imposed marginalization, to be different or more equal than other Penang people or the self imposed privileged few. All actually have equal opportunity in a state of democracy and equality; all have right to enjoy life.

We forgot...

For any religion, all human are born the same, no one is more privileged than other human in God's eyes, that is universal human equality, human right basic. But there are people who want to have self-marginalize to be the privileged one, or expect to be given the privilege or better treatment than others, even at the expense of breaking the law, ethics, and religion teaching...if they fail in meeting their agenda, they create problems for people and the state. They forgot they have benefited from the development of the state, and there are many of the people still not as lucky as them......

To them, may be the island should call Opium Island, not Penang, not Betel nut Island, not Pearl of Orient; they destroyed the island , their home island with their own hands..... they are the opium of Penang state. Many of them are politician or opportunist, or corrupted government officials, or even ordinary people, with no respect for past history, democracy, elected state government, rules and regulation, or even basic human right.

Pearl of Orient, Strait Born

Penang was a remote fishing island; there were some fishermen(50 fishermen were Orang Laut or fishermen from Indonesia?)Note: According to ABDUR-RAZZAQ LUBIS,long before the founding of the British settlement on Penang island by the East India Company in 1786, the island was already inhabited and its dwellers included people from the 'Indonesian' archipelago. Some years before the arrival of Captain Francis Light, the founder of the British trading post on Penang, three brothers connected to the Minangkabau (modern West Sumatra) royal family in Sumatra came to Penang to make their fortune. Even the early settlers/fishermen were from Minangkabau, Sumatra, Indonesia. But the island welcome all Pendatang or immigrant/settlers from different places in the world, otherwise the said fishermen will still be fishermen and today, a heritage village in a remote island.

The Pendatang from India, China, Indonesia, Arab, Persia, Scotland, Siam(include Kedah/Perlis), Burma, Armenia, Germany,....etc, all these pioneer pendatang, work hard in one spirit to built their livelihood, family, and to built Penang. This make Penang different, the Pearl of Orient for others, the envy of others, all because of the early pioneer who welcome all settlers with friendship, freedom and opportunity. This is the spirit of Penang. The descendants of the pioneers then become the strait born Penang people in Strait Settlement, where they are local born anak Pinang. The Baba Peranakan, Jawi Peranakan(or Jawi Pekan), Eurasian, were the fusion of different ancestry background. The spirit continued until the independence in 1957, and all are Malaysian now. The newly formed country with citizen consist of locally born(strait born Penang Lang)or through naturalization process for those who are not locally born. All strait born Penang people are automatically become the citizen of Malaysia by operation of law, the anak Pulau Pinang. The new nation was born, Penang become a state of the new nation, Malaysia.

Penang state, citizen of Malaysia

Pulau Pinang was an island for immigrants/settlers(Pendatang), but today it is the home for people from Penang, the Malaysian from Penang. The immigration history was the past, even all are descendants of immigrants in Penang......we are proud of the history. Any attempt to ignore or to deny or to alter the history of Penang by any Penang people, is the slap on his own face as he is the descendants of his great great ancestry who are once come from somewhere; Siam, Sumatra, Kerala, Madras, Punjab,Gujarat, Amoy, Swatow, Dapu, Bengal, Pattani, Kedah(a separate nation under Siam), Burma, Arab, .......who built Penang. Any denial is to erase the contribution of the ancestors who built Penang. The issue of Pendatang become history when Malaya and Strait Settlement achieved independence from British in 1957.

The newly formed country with citizen consist of locally born(strait born Penang Lang)or through naturalization process for those who are not locally born. All strait born Penang people are automatically become the citizen of Malaysia by operation of law, the anak Pulau Pinang. The new nation was born, Penang become a state of the new nation, Malaysia. From 1957, we do not accuse or classify the citizen of the new nation as immigrant(or pendatang)anymore, as the island is no longer a colony of Britain, it is now an independent nation, all citizens are the legitimate people of the new nation, Malaysia. They are citizen under the new constitution, legally defined, a citizen right provided by Malaysia's constitution. Any question on their status today is an insult and disrespect to the constitution. Moreover, after 53 years of independence, the Malaysian are mostly local born, the history have been more than 200 years after 1786, a mature Malaysian, a mature citizen, will fully understand the history, and value of independence. As matured nation, we look forward for future; if we forever look backward we carry the burden of history, we will stay behind......Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, were at par with us once, despite facing economic crisis,they go ahead, left us behind. Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are now at par with us, they are going to overtake us despite their political problems; where are we now?...are we still linger at the history 200 years ago?....

The responsibility of Penang lang

Sometime I wonder how many authentic Penang lang or anak Pinang still around; betul betul anak Pulau Pinang, or there are only people from somewhere coming here for better life and employment?. The new generation just do not care about the state. Many anak-anak Pulau Pinang may have left to other state in 70s, when there was no factory in Penang; the situation changed when industrialization come to Penang under the Chief Minister of Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu. Many from other states come in for employment. But there are some later migrated to other countries, when the education opportunity for their children is not clear; and some are leaving because of the political situation?... But a new waves of migration and new generation of Penang people was formed, where some were from other states,and who are still Malaysian; some are from other countries who are still immigrants(legal or illegal). What is the attraction of Penang to them? Penang have a tradition to treat all equal,no matter where you come from. Penang do not have law to protect the locals like other states. It is because the Penang people have the spirit of friendship, freedom, and opportunity, which treated all, old or new Penang lang equally, and provide the opportunity for all. As long as we have choose to live in Penang, this is our state, and we are anak Pinang, we should make the effort to built Penang, a sense of belonging to Penang.

As Penang lang even trivial thing like throwing rubbish into the river I will think twice....why dirty our island....

We the current Penang people, should work hard like the pioneer Penang lang, to make Penang Pearl of Orient again....that should be our goal and not to listen to useless empty political talk and watching the political acts of some failed politician, a political opportunist. Penang have right and freedom to change the government, like in 308, anytime in state election, if any state government elected did not built Penang as expected by Penang people, we can always repeat the 308. However we respected the elected state government elected by the people, and allow the government to run and finish its tenor. We do not slap our own old Penang said. What we want as Penang lang, is to return to the glorious days of the Pearl of the Orient.....

Let the spirit of Penang grow, and let those who cannot cope with this style of Penang leave, even he is anak Pinang, as he had lost the spirit of Pinang...... We need to go forward....

Let not(us) be the blame of future generation, blame us as opium of Penang state....

Related articles

1. Roots of Penang Malay, by Ong Ju Lynn,
2. FROM MALABARIS TO MALAYSIANS: The Untold Story of Malayalees in Penang*, by Professor Suresh Narayanan, USM;
3. Jawi Peranakan, the Malays of Penang(2004), Bernama;

Penang Siamese(รัฐปีนัง ไทย)

Siamese or Thai

Some called them Thai(ไทย), some called them Siamese. Thai people or khon Thai(คน ไทย) is refer to people of Thailand nation, which is not refer to ethnic group or race, but a national identity, people of Thailand(former Siam), or people of Siam, Khon Siam(คน สยาม). They may be Tai(ไท), Chinese, Malay, Khemer, Vienamese, Hmong, Lahu etc. Tai(not Thai) is the major ethnic group in Modern Thailand, similar to Shan(Burma), Laos(Laos), Ahom(North East India)race. But in Thailand,this Tai is officially, and prefer to call themselves "Thai"(ไทย). The Malaysian Siamese however is from South Thailand, we are refer to them as people who are from Siam, who speak Thai language or Siamese(ภาษาไทย) and who are Buddhist, and historically resident of Malaysia for long time , a local Siamese. They prefer to be called Malaysian Siamese(มาเลเซียเชื้อสาย สยาม) or orang Siam(โอรังเซียม), not Malaysian Thai(มาเลเซียเชื้อสาย ไทย). Malaysian Siamese is a term commonly referred to Malaysians of Thai ethnicity, but in Thai language or phasa thai(ภาษาไทย),it is still มาเลเซียเชื้อสาย ไทย(Malaysia Thai).

Penang is very close to Thailand, especially Phuket Island. There are cultural, trading, and even close relationship between the people of the two countries. Phuket, Songkla, Trang, Ranong and other places in South Thailand have historically linked with Penang long time ago. Penang was once part of Kedah, and Kedah was part of Siam kingdom, so they are historically close neighboring country. The Siamese community in Penang, like those from Burma and Indonesia, has contributed much to development of early Penang.

1. Early Siamese Chinese - mainly early Siamese Chinese, who have obtain citizenship, considered local Malaysian Chinese
2. Early Siamese Malay - assimilated into local Malay community, constitutionally Malay.
3. Early Siamese Thai - local Siamese, considered Malaysian Siamese.
4. Siamese from North Thailand - mainly woman and brides from North Thailand
5. Thai immigrant workers - workers with work permit
6. Thai students - under student visa, mainly in local college and Han Chiang High School, which is traditionally a choice for Thai students.

It was reported there are 2,000 Siamese in Penang, out of 60,000 in Malaysia. This statistic only on Siamese with Malaysian citizenship, excluding Siamese Chinese and Malay with citizenship. The Siamese Chinese and Malay are classified under respective Malaysian race group. Even Siamese of Muslim faith(if any in Penang) like Siamese Pakistani, Indian Muslim, Khmer Cham, Pattani will have assimilated into Malay community. So statistically, the Malaysian Siamese refer to local Siamese of Buddhist faith, non-Chinese origin. Most of the Siamese are living in villages around the Siamese temples.

Almost all of the local Siamese community here can trace their ancestry over the past few centuries to Penang or Kedah.

Relation between Kedah Kingdom and Siam Empire

Penang was part of Kedah, any history involved Penang Siamese involved Kedah.

The war between Burma and Siam had began again in 1785 in the northern part of Kedah Kingdom which is bordered by Trang and assumed by Siam as apart of Siam province. Sultan Abdullah (1760-1797 CE) who was the King of Kedah had tried his best to avoid the kingdom from falling into the conflicts and also trying to save his kingdom from destructed by the war but he also had no capacity to do those things. Both sides which were Siam and Burma had pressured him to proclaim loyalty to each other.

The war continued for more than 100 years, and in that period too, Phuket (Junk Ceylon) was attacked by Burmese for not less than three times.

In the first attack of the year 1785, Burma had the intention to put Kedah kingdom and the whole Kra Isthmus into their dominance. Fortunately, the mainland of Kedah kingdom managed to survive from the attack and expelling Burmese out under a woman leadership. The woman leader is a Kedahan and she is the wife of the Governor of Phuket who had just passed away.The people in Phuket too had fiercely opposing Burmese army. In January 1786, Burmese had to retreat because the food supply had gone empty. In the same year too, the King of Burma Bodawpaya (1781-1819 CE) had threatened to attack Siam again thus King Rama I (1782-1809 CE) had sent an order to Sultan Abdullah of Kedah to protect Phuket from falling to Burma.

But till 1802 there is no Burmese attack. In 1802 Burmese came again but they still failed to occupy Phuket. Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin of Kedah (1804-1843 CE) was ordered to provide army, boats, and food supply for Siamese army when Burmese came again in the near future. In 1810, Burma finally managed to occupy Phuket, but a year later the army from Kedah came and attack them.

The third attack from Burma over Phuket happened again in 1818. This time, Siam had earlier prepared 10,000 Siamese soldiers and assisted by 2,500 Kedahan soldiers. They had successfully defeating Burma and Burma had to retreat again. The King of Kedah, Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin was granted the title Chao Phaya by the Emperor of Siam as the sign of gratitute for the assistance provided.

Unfortunately, Siam had later attacked Kedah because the King of Kedah had internal problems in the Kedah Royal Court. He can't fulfill the demands from Siam which never seem to cease. Kedah King too had made a mistake by believing the promise made by Francis Light to help him setting his kingdom free from Siam empire while Francis Light never helped him but had betrayed him with several dirty tricks. Kedah was attacked by Siam overlord in 1821 and was divided into 4 parts. They are Kubang Pasu, Satun, Perlis, and Kedah. Each part was administrated by different rulers. Today, only Kubang Pasu joined Kedah and become a state of Malaysia, Perlis become a separate state of Malaysia. Satun remain with Thailand.

The places in Kedah with concentration Siamese community are:

Kubang Pasu/Jitra
Sungai Petani(Wat Kalai) - Sitting majestically in a meditation pose against the blue sky, is the 70 feet tall Buddha statue of the 200-year-old Siamese temple, Wat Kalai in Jeneri, Sik. It is the biggest stone and clay painted Buddha statue in Kedah state, sitting on a decorated lotus plinth base and was built in 1984. The four concrete walls of the base are crafted and rich with details of 64 smaller statues.This architectural marvel of the solid sculpture is located in Kampung Kalai (Kalai Village) and is about 50 km from Sungai Petani town.

Penang Siamese
Early Penang Siamese

In a letter from Capt Francis Light to the Government of India in Bengal in 1793 (seven years after the establishment of Penang), Francis Light described the main communities in Penang. He referred to 3,000 Chinese, who were involved in trades such as carpentry and masonry, and worked as shopkeepers and planters. They also adventured to surrounding countries in small vessels. The Malays, who formed the majority of the population, were described as being drawn primarily from Kedah, and to a smaller extent, other parts of the peninsula, Java, and Sumatra. They were largely wood-cutters and padi cultivators. Light also noted the presence of 100 Burmese and Siamese, and added that the Arabs, descendants of Arabs, and the Bugis were a part of Penang’s population.

The Siamese was in Penang in 1786, when Capt Francis Light landed in Penang. They called the island Koh Maak((เกาะหมาก)

In 1828, as at 31-12-1828, the census of the population of Penang reported total population of 22,503 people. Out which total 1117 were Siamese and Burmese, mostly focus at Teluk Air Raja, now Pulau Tikus area(665 people)and Qualla Muda, now Kuala Muda(256 people). The statistic for the census can be taken as sample for Siamese, even it included the Burmese population but the Burmese population may not be large.(source:Commercial statistics: A digest of the productive resources, commercials 1850, by John Macgregor pg 997).

In 1845, the Siamese community sought a piece of land. As a gesture to promote trading relations with Siam, Queen Victoria granted a five-acre piece in Pulau Tikus to them. The land grant was presented by the Governor of Penang, W.L. Butterworth to four women trustees, on 22 July 1845.Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram, is the largest Thai Buddhist temple in Penang was built on the land.

Today's Penang Siamese

Siamese in Penang included the early local Siamese community,Siamese brides(normally from North Thailand), Siamese Chinese(from Phuket and South Thailand, which traditionally having trade and family relationship with Penang Chinese), Siamese students(Han Chiang High School and some private colleges),Thai workers etc. But Malaysian Siamese community are referring to local Siamese of Buddhist faith, who are non-Chinese. Some Siamese from Kelantan,Kedah, and Perlis may moved here to seek for job.

The early Siamese normally settled around Siamese temple in Penang, most lived on temple land. There was a Siamese village at Burma Road, near Wat Chaiyamangkalaram but they have moved due to commercial development in the area. There are now 2,000 local Siamese in Penang. But they are an active community in Penang, with the support of Siamese Chinese and local Chinese community, they are srill able to hold festivals, cultural and religion activities. Na Ranong family or Khaw family are closely link with Penang. So even they(Siamese community) is small, compared to Kedah, Kelantan and even Perlis, there are no lack of activities in Penang. The Thai consulate is also located in Penang, they also directly involved in the Siamese cultural activities held in Penang.

Songkran(สงกรานต์) & Loy Krathong(ลอยกระทง) festival is held annually in Penang. Songkran is a Thai word which means "move" or "change place" as it is the day when the sun changes its position in the zodiac. It is also known as the "Water Festival" as people believe that water will wash away bad luck. It is celebrate as the traditional New Year's Day from 13 to 15 April. Loy Krathong is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November. A raft is decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, incense sticks etc. Thai people believe that floating a raft on the river is to honor and pay respect to the Goddess of Water. Also floating a raft in the river is to apologize to the Goddess of the Water for the bad things we have done to the river during the past year.

"Loy" means "to float". "Krathong" is a raft, about a hand span in diameter, traditionally made from a section of banana tree trunk.


When Francis Light founded Penang, he adopted an open-door policy to make Penang a conducive place for different communities to co-exist. As a result, within George Town are enclaves of diverse communities including the Armenians, Acheenese, Chulia, Malabaris, Burmese as well as the Thai. In 1845, the Thai community sought a piece of land. As a gesture to promote trading relations with Siam, Queen Victoria granted a five-acre piece in Pulau Tikus to them. The land grant was presented by the Governor of Penang, W.L. Butterworth to four women trustees, on 22 July 1845.

Wat Chaiyamangkalaram, also written Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram, is the largest Thai Buddhist temple in Penang. It is often called the Temple of the Reclining Buddha of Penang, on account of the magnificent reclining Buddha image house in the vihara. The image of Phra Chaiya Mongkol measures 33 meters (108 ft) from end to end. However, the statue was only built in 1958, in conjunction with the 2500th anniversary of the birth of Buddha, at a cost of M$100,000
The Buddha image is actually columbarium housing niches for urns of the cremated. There is a crematorium within the temple complex in addition to the gilded prang (pagoda), another magnificent sight at Wat Chaiyamangkalaram. A small Thai community still live within the complex. There is also a Thai cemetery.

Siamese Temples in Penang Island- Wat(วัด)

Religion is important for Siamese community, their temple or Wat is always the centre of community's cultural and religion activities. Knowing the history of Wat(วัด), will know the history of the community.

1. Wat Chayamangkalaram - The Sleeping Buddha Temple,Burma Lane, Pulau Tikus. Also written as Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram. The Wat Chayamangkalaram was built in 1845 on five acres of land donated by Queen Victoria to the Thai community.
2. Wat Pingban Onn, Green Lane - A meditation centre set up by Malaysian Buddhist Meditation Center
3. Buppharam Thai Buddhist Temple(Flower Temple) - Located at 8, Perak Road, it was built in 1942 by a Siamese monk, Luang Por Sri Keow.
4. Penanti - The Rajchaphohong temple, Penanti, built in 1931 by the Siamese community's forefathers. The Siamese village next to it is built on the temple's land. There are 38 families living there.

Historical boundary stone

British-Siamese boundary stone (Pinang Tunggal),

Thai Consulate General in Penang

NO. 1, Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman
10350 Penang
Tel. (60-4) 2268029, 2269484
Fax:(60-4) 2263121
E-mail :
web site:

Office Hours:

Monday- Friday 9.00-12.00 hrs | 14.00-16.30 hrs
From 1st of June 2008
The Royal Thai Consulate will accept Visa Application
from 9.00 - 11.00 am
It is closed on Thai Public Holiday, Malaysia Public Holiday and Penang Public Holidays. Please check it on the website.

Malaysian Siamese Association’s Penang branch

The Siamese are represented by Malaysian Siamese Association, with their head quarter at Kedah. It was established in 1970. Penang has a branch, which has actively involved in organizing annual Songkran festival.
Chairman : Willai Promsu Wan.

Related articles/websites:

2. The Siamese in Kedah under nation-state making, by Keiko Kuroda (Kagoshima University),
3. Nai Khan, First Siamese To Contest In Election(2009), Bernama,
4. Penanti’s Siamese gem, by Syed Jaymal Zahiid,

Penang Burmese

Burmese like Thai, are Malaya Peninsula closer neighbor geographically, there were historical contact through trade and war. Naturally there were early settlers from Burma, now called Myanmar. Penang is geographically close to Penang, naturally the contact between Penang and Burma will be close.

Originally from the hills of Tibet, the Burmese are now the political, economic, and religious leaders of Myanmar (formerly called Burma). Burmese history is a chronicle of wars and rebellions. Ethnic divisions and political unrest have been common since the first Burmese kingdom in the eleventh century. Consequently, the Burmese have lived in constant instability, fear, and bitterness. In the midst of such turmoil, some fled to the relative stability of other countries, such as Malaysia.

Burma established diplomatic relations with Malaya in 1959, and those relations continued when the nation of Malaysia was formed in 1965. Despite differing political systems, the Burmese and Malay share commercial and economic interests. In addition, Malaysia offers various training services for the Burmese police and armed forces, farm-based industries, hotel management, and palm oil technology. Since 1976, Burmese doctors have served in Malaysia on a contract basis.

Ever since the 1800's, the Burmese were lured to the stable conditions and economic opportunities of Malaysia. However, upon arrival they found that they had to compete with Indians, Chinese, and other peoples from Southeast Asia. In medieval times, the port of Malacca controlled the straits through which trade with the East occurred. Located on the southwestern coast of Malaya facing Sumatra, the city possessed a considerable reputation for its trade. Merchants from many countries, including Burma, were attracted to it. When the British assumed control in the 1800's, Malaysia's commerce was limited to trade with Burma, Thailand, and Indonesia.

The Early History of the Burmese Community in Penang

by Dato' Mary J. Ritchie & Ms. Nyee Aye Toolseram

We have no records of the earliest Burmese arrivals to Penang. However, we know that after 1800, there was a large Burmese settlement in the area between Bagan Jeramal and Pulau Tikus. The Burmese also settled in Batu Maung.

The earliest settlers were fishermen who came by fishing boats and established a colony - probably at Telok Ava, near the present Chinese cemetery in Telok Bahang. The early burial ground of the Burmese was a plot of land in front of Casuarina Hotel, probably the car park site.

Most of the early Burmese community were concentrated in the Burmese Village in Pulau Tikus. There were also nearby fishing settlements along the coast. Early paintings depicted the "Burmese Temple" (painted by Captain Edward H. Locker, 1805) and a house named "MacKinnon's Residence near Burmese village" (painted by James Wathen, 1811) in the Pulau Tikus area.
The original site of the temple land was purchased by Nonia Betong from George Layton for 390 spanish dollars. The temple was founded on 1st August 1803 and named the Nandy Moloh Temple. The four trustees were all ladies: Nonia Betong, Nonia Meerut, Nonia Koloh and Nonia Bulan.
The Burmese community expanded, and together with the Thai Buddhist community they appealed to Queen Victoria of England for land to build bigger temples and burial grounds for elders. Queen Victoria through the East India Company granted land jointly for the Siamese and Burmese communities to erect their temples.

The Burmese Temple Trustees (1845) were Nong May & Bon Khan. Later, on the demise of the above trustees, three Burmese trustees were added: Koo Pao, Poh Oh and Changerig. The temple pagoda appears in an early painting (John Turnbull Thomson, 1848). In 1948, the Penang court appointed Maung Pho Min, Maung Shoey Nee and Maung Shoey Dong to administer the trust.

The Chief Monks of the temple were as follows:
The late Ven. U Nandamala 1803-1842
The late Ven. U Sutti 1842-1865
The late Ven. U Vicara 1865-1897
The late Ven. U Nanavamsa 1897-1922
The late Ven. U Jagara 1922-1957
The late Ven. U. Vimala 1957-1972
The late Ven. U Paranavamsa 1972- present

The Burmese are devout Buddhists. In recent years, much of the Buddhist Temple, including the old Simla Hall, has been redeveloped and new Buddha statues added, through the generous donations of devotees. The Burmese Buddhist festivals are Soon Dawgyi, Kathina celebration (offering of money tree and Kathina robes), Wesak Day Procession and Water Festival.
The Burmese were traders who conducted barter trade. They were also famous for cigar manufacturing. Some of the educated ones were civil servants, such as surveyors, station masters and clerks. A few became professionals, such as doctors.

The Burmese cigar factory was pioneered by Sin Yew Kyong (1890-1961). His wife was a Nonya by the name of Khoo Lean Sim. Coming to Penang at age 16, Sin later set up a "choorut" or cigar factory and company, Guan Hin, at 8, Tavoy Road, Penang. This factory employed about 300 Burmese choorut rolling factory girls in the 1930s. Sin later opened a cigar shop at 22 Prangin Lane, Penang, and a factory at 19 Eastern Road, Taiping, Perak. The factory was managed by his two sons Sin Hock Leong and Sin Tien Ho.

Many of the cigar factory girls were sought after as wives for the Chinese immigrants.
Through intermarriage, the Burmese integrated with other ethnic communities in Penang. The following are stories of two Burmese families in Penang.

Oral history by Dato' Mary J. Ritchie

My grandmother Mah Nyong (1840-1921) came from Burma to Penang, trading in gem stones. My father Maung Shoay Tong was a trader, selling herbal cures and bicycles. He loved music and was active in community work. My mother Meh Itt Chanradvirode was born in Phuket, Thailand. She was active in giving herbal cures and healing injuries. My parents had 10 chlidren (7 sons and 3 daughters). My eldest sister is Mah Seng Yin and my eldest brother is Maung Song Seng. My uncle Maung Shoay Tee worked as a surveyor. He retired and stayed in Taiping. My aunt's name was Mah Meek.

Oral history by Nyee Aye Toolseram

My grandfather was Dr. Hari Singh Thulasiram (Dr. Harrison Toolseram) of Burmese Indian origin. He had his clinic in Chulia Street. My grandmother Mah Poh Siew was of Burmese Chinese origin. My auntie, June Toolseram married Mr. Devosse of Dutch origin. My uncle Jan Toolseram married a Nyonya around the year 1941.
My father Puteh or Phu Thay (1898-1969) worked as a ledger clerk and a meter reader inspector. His first marriage was to Winnie Bamford of Dutch origin (circa 1904-1939). They had 4 sons and 2 daughters. His second marriage was to my mother Keng Choo or Peh Nyet of Burmese Chinese origin (1915-1960). They had 2 sons and 4 daughters.
My father took part as a violin player in the Bangsawan performances organised by the Chinese Amateur Dramatic Association in aid of China Distress Relief Fund on 17-18 August, 1928. My
uncle on my mother's side is Maung Toon Meng, and he married a Chinese wife. There used to be a Penang Burmese Buddhist Association, according to a picture taken around 1941.
My father Puteh Toolseram or Phu Thay Toolseram (1898-1969) worked as a ledger clerk and a meter reader inspector. His first marriage was to Winnie Bamford of Dutch origin (circa 1904-1939). They had 4 sons and 2 daughters.

• Bamooung Toolseram
• Ong Toolseram
• ….

His second marriage was to my mother Keng Choo or Peh Nyet of Burmese Chinese origin (1915-1960). They had 2 sons and 4 daughters.

• Lha Toon Toolseram
• Bamoung Toolseram
• Nyee Aye Toolseram
• Nya Toolseram
• Darling Toolseram
• Bee Bee Toolseram

My father took part as a violin player in the Bangsawan performances organised by the Chinese Amateur Dramatic Association in aid of China Distress Relief Fund on 17-18 August, 1928. My uncle on my mother’s side is Maung Toon Meng, and he married a Chinese wife. There used to be a Penang Burmese Buddhist Association, according to a picture taken around 1941.


Looking back at our history, we are proud to be the Penang Burmese community. As a minority, the questions we should ask are, what will happen to our community in the future? Will our religion and culture survive after 200 years of the history of Penang?
In view of the questions asked, we, a group of Penangites, have registered an organisation named Penang Burmese Society, with a mission to carry on our Burmese heritage and culture. Presently, we are planning, developing and strategising interesting programmes to promote Burmese living culture and traditions. We hope everyone (including the State government) can give full support to further our mission.

(source: from Penang Story Project, website: )

Penang Burmese Society

Malaysians of Burmese descent have formed the Penang Burmese Society to preserve their ethnic culture, values and language. Society chairman Moung Ban Chowi said the society will be a base for Malaysians of Burmese descent to interact and for the younger generation to know their roots.

"Being a small community, our people seemed to be losing their identity. We were once a sizeable community in Penang and Taiping but through inter- marriages, our identity has diminished.

The Burmese had formed a settlement here in the early 19th century, and their presence remained until the early part of the 20th century. At that time, there was a Burmese village here called Kampong Ava - probably named after the town of Ava (today Inwa) in Myanmar. When the British administrators created the main road here, they named it Burmah Road. Off shoots of Burmah Road were also named after places in Burma(Burma Lane) . Hence we now have road names that are of Burmese origin including Burmah, Irrawaddi, Rangoon, Mandalay, Moulmein, Salween, Tavoy and Thaton.

Today, the Burmese presence in Pulau Tikus is best represented by the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple at Burmah Lane (Lorong Burma). It has been around since the beginning of the 19th century. The oldest part of the temple, the stupa, dates back to 1805.

The Burmese are devout Buddhists. History tells us of Burmese settling in Penang Island, many were around the Pulau Tikus area. They came here as early as 1800s and appealed to Queen Victoria of England for land to build bigger temples and burial grounds for elders. Queen Victoria through the East India Company granted land jointly for the Siamese and Burmese communities to erect their temples. This Burmese temple is the first Buddhist temple in Penang.

Burmese Temple

The Dhammikarama Burmese Temple at Burmah Lane, originally known as the Nandy Molah Burmese Temple, was the first Buddhist temple to be built in Penang in 1803, on land donated by Nyonya Betong, one of its many woman patrons. The oldest part of the temple is the stupa which was consecrated in 1805. It is enshrined within an outer stupa which was constructed in 1838, together with the ceremonial hall guarded by a pair of stone elephants.

Mythical figures and religious icons dot the spacious compound, much of which were later additions. Among them are bell-bearing acolytes, myriad buddhas, chimeras and flying beings. Two huge and imposing-looking chinthes (mythical beings that are a cross between a dragon, a dog and a lion) flank the entrance to the main prayer hall. At a disused 200 year-old well is a huge pond filled with carps. Buddha statues in different meditative poses nestle in grottos marked with the names of individual donors as well as signs of the zodiac. A pair of winged chimeras called Panca Rupa look resplendent in the roles as "Guardian Protectors of the World."

A huge mural depicts the Great Renunciation of Prince Siddharta. The future Buddha is shown riding his steed Kanthaka in mid-air with his faithful servant Channa seemingly hanging on. Evil beings try to discourage him from his noble quest while good ones welcome him with open arms.


Burmese Wedding in 1917

A pretty Burmese wedding took place on Sunday, at Palo Tikus, when Mr. Puteh Toolseram alias Lab Oung, second son of the lato Mr. Toolseram, of Chulia Street, Punang, was married to Miss Vince, alias Man Sing, the granddaughter of the late Mr. Moung Tbaw Oong, late Burmese Medical Practitioner of Pulo Tikus. The marriage was conducted by Mr Maung Poh Ob, the Head Burmese Trustee of 43, Cantonment Road, Penang(source: Strait Times, 8-12-1917)

Famous Personality

1.Hannah Toolseram (Malaysian of Burmese origin) is the house-model for Versace in Milan, and Mary Lourdes Chandran (fashion designer Bernard Chandran's wife) used to work in Paris as house model for Jorge Rech - she was with Marilyn Gaulthier modelling agency.

2. Dr. Hari Singh Thulasiram (Dr. Harrison Toolseram) of Burmese Indian origin. He had his clinic in Chulia Street.

3. Mr. Moung Tbaw Oong, late Burmese Medical Practitioner of Pulo Tikus.

There are few records on the Burmese in other part of Malaysia; there may be families who have moved to other states from Penang, but no significant settlement have been reported. One of the Toolseram family is in Kuantan, who was one of the police commandant in the Pahang Police Field Force Camp(retired),his son is now in Kelantan, a former banker now businessman.

The above articles reflected that Burma and Penang had been having close relationship in the past including trading relationship.

Even today there are many Burmese immigrant in Penang, both legal and illegal. Some are professional as doctors, some are under refugee status. Burmese refugees and asylum seekers started running to Malaysia more than 20 years ago and the number has increased since then. Currently, there are more than 60,000 Burmese refugees registered with UNHCR but thousands more are unregistered.

They are welcome by the local community firstly due to their hardworking nature , and secondly they can easily assimilated to local society. Burmese community, old and new are indeed a contributor to the development of Penang and Malaysia....

Related articles:

1. Burmese Society in Malaysia,