Friday, March 19, 2010

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,

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