Glimpses of Penang’s Past features a selection of articles on Penang from very early issues of The Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JMBRAS) and its predecessor JSBRAS. It is aimed at making them accessible to the general reader who would have difﬁculty in locating individual issues of the journal. In particular, many would be hard pressed to acquire the earlier articles, especially those contained in JSBRAS, now out of print. As the objective is to make available articles from the earlier journals, most of which can only be bought in specialist antiquarian bookshops or at ﬂea markets where second hand items can be found, those in more recent issues are not included as they are available for purchase. Consequently, there are gaps in the coverage as particular topics and aspects of history, which can be found in the later issues, are not part of this selection.
The ﬁrst section on ‘Early Settlement’ comprises four essays: three from contemporaneous writers, Allan Maclean Skinner, Resident Councillor of Penang (1887-1897), Reverend Keppel Garnier who served during the ‘Early Days’ as Colonial Chaplain at Penang from 1911 to 1936, and James Scott, Francis Light’s partner, with an introduction by K. J. Fielding. The fourth essay, a scholarly effort by Rollins Bonney from his larger study on Kedah, presents an opposing version to the favourable picture on Light’s efforts drawn from the ﬁrst three.
The second section provides a picture of how the ‘business of empire’ could be served by the provision of the essential infrastructure of law and order so as to meet the objective of attracting trade and settlers, not to mention maintaining colonial rule. Of interest is K. G. Tregonning’s assessment, from his review of the exchanges between Light and Bengal and Tan Soo Chye’s “Note on Early Legislation in Penang” among others.
The essays in the third section on ‘People and Culture’ are ﬁrmly grounded in the local area—they supply alternative accounts to earlier Eurocentric colonial narratives with their focus on metropolitan and imperial imperatives and institutional structures to run their territorial possessions. They include J. R. Logan’s “Memorandum on the Various Tribes inhabiting Penang and Province Wellesley” which touches on the Simang, Binua, Malay and Siamese. From the essays “Buddhist Temples and Associations in Penang” and “Malay Words in Baba Hokkien of Penang”, readers will get a glimpse of some of the locality’s history of shared religious practices and language among the inhabitants as well as an indication of the process of settlement, the earlier to later arrivals. Benny Liow Woon Khin’s study established that the Thai, Burmese and Singhalese communities set up Theravada temples to meet their spiritual needs with Chinese devotees becoming the majority by the 1920s.
The term ‘Baba Malay’ as the language of the Straits-born Peranakan Chinese had been coined by earlier writers such as Shellabear (1913) and Tan Chee Beng (1980). In contrast, linguists Teoh Boon Seong and Lim Beng Soon use another term ‘Baba Hokkien’, the result of their study, a two-month participant observation of a Peranakan family in Penang in 1998 to conclude that “Baba Hokkien of Penang is essentially a Hokkien dialect with some Malay elements”.
The 1857 and 1867 riots in Penang were deﬁning events in Colonial Malaya, spawning legislation to register and control ‘secret societies’, remnants of the earlier Societies Ordinances (1889 and subsequent amendments) still evident currently. Due to the preoccupation of colonial ofﬁcials with Chinese secret societies and the literature on them, Mahani Musa’s “Malays and the Red and White Flag Societies in Penang, 1830s-1920s” traces their formation in the 1830s by the Indian Muslim and Jawi Pekan communities for religious and social reasons and their transformation in the 1850s to protect their communities in light of the rise in crime. Their alliances with Ghee Hin, Hai San and Toa Pek Kong illustrate “Chinese and Muslim societies as natural allies”; their close cooperation in 1867 an example of business links transcending ethnicity.
It has to be acknowledged that this selection only provides a bird’s eye view of Penang’s past. This reprint should serve to whet the appetite of those seeking a more nuanced understanding on a number of broad themes, including but not conﬁned to: (1) the British imperial enterprise and the incorporation of their Southeast Asian settlements into the world economy as suppliers of raw materials and importers of western manufactures, (2) the agency of local actors in the face of Anglo–Dutch rivalry, and (3) the myriad consequences of imperialism—political, economic, social and cultural.” It is our hope that a reading of these articles can serve to stimulate further research and suggest new avenues for historical inquiry, as in revisiting topics, however well mined, with fresh eyes.
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Contents of Glimpses of Penang’s Past:
- Memoir of Captain Francis Light, Who Founded Penang by A.M.S.
- Early Days in Penang by the Rev. Keppel Garnier
- The Settlement of Penang by James Scott, edited by K.J. Fielding
- Francis Light and Penang by R. Bonney
Administrative and Economic Development
- Plan for a Volunteer Police in the Muda Districts, Province Wellesley by J.R. Logan
- A Note on Early Legislation in Penang by Tan Soo Chye
- The Early Land Administration and Agricultural Development of Penang by K.G. Tregonning
- Governor Bannerman and the Penang Tin Scheme 1818-1819 by C.D. Cowan
- Chinese-Malay Socio-Economic Networks in the Penang-Kedah-North Sumatra Triangle, 1880-1909: A Case Study of Lim Leng Cheak by Wu Xiao An
- Ordering of Housing and the Urbanisation Process: Shophouses in Colonial Penang by Mai Lin Tjoa-Bonatz
People and Culture
- Memorandum on the Various Tribes Inhabiting Penang and Province Wellesley by J.R. Logan
- Buddhist Temples and Associations in Penang 1845-1948 by Benny Liow Woon Khin
- Malay Words in Baba Hokkien of Penang by Teoh Boon Seong and Lim Beng Soon
- Malays and the Red and White Flag Societies in Penang, 1830s-1920s by Mahani Musa