28 March 2015: The Story of Hokkien Kongsi, Penang

Hokkien-Kongsi-coverThe Hokkien Kongsi, Penang has never stopped leveraging the association’s resources…in promoting Chinese culture and heritage as well as being involved in economic and social matters. – Tan Lye Hock, The Story of Hokkien Kongsi, Penang

History’s role, it is said, is to separate myth from memory, and replace it with carefully researched arguments for the benefit of present and future generations. Applying this maxim, the Penang Hokkien Kongsi has put together a book – The Story of Hokkien Kongsi, Penang – chronicling the migration of the Hokkien forefathers to Penang since the 1800s and the establishment of patriarchal clan houses, or kongsis.

Two experts – a historian and an architect – were tasked with the job, which culminated in exhaustive essays covering the early migration to Penang; Segmentary Structure and Social Organisations; Origins and Development of the Five Big Kongsis; Organisational Structure and Development; and The Five Community Temples of Hokkien Kongsi, Penang. The gaps left by unavailable or missing records and oral histories resulted in many being unaware of the role of these kongsis. Thus, the authors hope that the book will address this shortcoming and help educate future generations on the many contributions of clan associations to Penang and to the country.

Penang’s Hokkien Kongsi was established in 1856 by the Big Five clan surnames – Cheah, Khoo, Lim, Tan and Yeoh – who originated from the Fujian Province in South Eastern China. Their purpose was basically to look after the welfare of clan members, to assist newcomers seeking better lives in a new land and to uphold the custom of deity worship and ancestor veneration. Although common among the Chinese, this clan concept is not exactly unique – Jewish immigrants also observe a rather similar practice known as Landsmannschaft, which refers to a society of Jews from the same European town or region.

The principal authors of The Story of Hokkien Kongsi, Penang were Tan Kim Hong, a local historian, and Ooi Bok Kim, a prolific conservation architect in Penang. Apart from the fine writing, the 200-page hardcover bilingual (English and Chinese) book is richly illustrated with historical and contemporary pictures.  Launched late last year, proceeds from the sales of this book will be channeled towards the renovation of the kongsi’s temples.