Monday, 29 November 2010


What does diaspora mean in sociology & history?

Traders, Teachers, Pressmen and Pilgrim Brokers:
Penang Arabs in the Regional Network.

By Abdur-Razzaq Lubis

Compared to the Arab presence in Kedah, the Arab diaspora10 to Penang was far
more visible but unlike Arab migration to the Indonesian archipelago, their migration to
Penang was on a much smaller scale.[page 3]
10 Diaspora has been defined as “ethnic minority groups of migrant origin residing and acting in host countries, but maintaining strong sentimental and material links with their countries of origin”.

The printing industry in Penang spearheaded by the Jawi Peranakan, Arabs and Rawa (they are known as Rao in Sumatra) catered to the Jawi-reading population of the northern states of the Peninsula, southern Thailand and Sumatra. (Khoo, 1990; 29) [Page 8]

Not unlike their Arab brethren in Singapore, whose settlements are focused in the urban areas around Arab Street, Baghdad Street, Bussorah Street, Jedda Street and Muscat Street, the Arab presence in Penang, in the early days were concentrated in Acheen Street-Armenian Street enclave and subsequently in the twentieth century they began to expand their settlements to Kampung Syed in Pulau Tikus, in close proximity to the city centre, Jelutong and Kampung Melayu in Air Itam.16 [Page 8]
16 Kampung Melayu, Air Hitam is a Malay reservation established in the 1930s. It is the only
Malay reservation in the former British Straits Settlements.(Sejarah Persatuan Melayu Pulau
Pinang, ditubuhkan pada 1927: 6)

With regard to the Jelutong Mosque, circa 1900, the property appears to have been under the sole control of one Syed Akil Mashor, prompting the Jelutong Muslim community threatening legal action against Syed Akil, forcing the latter to execute a Trust Deed appointing three trustees for the wakaf. It is telling of the state of affairs with the board’s finding that “Trouble is evidently brewing in connection with this Mosque.” (Hand Book, 1932: 18-9) [Page 12]

In the middle of the eighteen century the Hadhramis began to settle in Malacca, and later on in other of the larger towns in the peninsula.25 During the nineteenth century, many of the Hadhramis went to India, East Africa and the countries around the Red Sea, but after the turn of the century, the Dutch East Indies and the British Straits Settlements became the most important destinations.
25 It has been suggested that Hadhramis settled in Malacca as early as the fifteenth century.
(Riddell, 1997: 220) [Page 15]

The great majority of Arabs originated from Hadhramaut, the remaining came primarily from the Hejaz although the author knows of Penang Arabs whose forefathers hails from Cairo and Baghdad. The Hadhrami mainly came to trade, though the sayyid and shaykh had multiple roles as sufi, alim and even merchants; the Arabs from the Hejaz oscillate from the Arabian peninsula to ports of Penang, Singapore and the Batavia to recruit and accompany aspiring hajis to the holy land. [Page 16]

Peranakan Jawi, Peranakan Arab
At the beginning of the nineteenth century most of the Arabs, Hadhramis included married local women, primarily “Malay” or Javanese, inhibiting their return home but still regarding Hadhramaut as their spiritual home, “in the hope that some day they may be able to return there, to await the day of Resurrection and Judgement.”32 Marriage with local or indigenous women declined as more peranakan Arab women, offspring of mixed marriages in the first instance, were available. In other words, they married primarily descendants of these mixed marriages, muwallad (muwallidun) 33 or peranakan Arab as they are known in Java and Jawi Peranakan in the British Straits Settlements. At the height of Hadhrami migration to Southeast Asia, “the muwalladin were an elite and dynamic element, scions of noble and wealthy families…” (Ho, 1997:143) [Page 19]

As bluntly put by Aljelany, “How then can we account for the twelve thousand Malaya-born Hadramis who are left to be assimilated. Well, their fathers have been forced by circumstances to abandon them. They would indubitably have taken them to Hadramaut had they had any choice in the matter.” (Aljelany, 1935: 10)34 The ‘left behind party’ became the Jawi Pekan or Jawi Peranakan @ Peranakan Arab. [Page 19]

For the most part, many of the Arabs arriving in Penang were already Peranakan to begin with, “a hybrid of Arab men from Aceh and Hadramaut and different regions in the Middle-East whose forefathers had married Malay, Rawa, Madurese, Bugis, Thai and Burmese women and where women of sayyid ancestry had already begun to marry indigenous men.” (Wazir, 2009: 134-235) [Page 19]

By the early nineteenth century, there was already such a thing as “Penang Malays” and when used in the context of George Town, the capital of Penang State, the term refers to people of diverse origin. Thomson commented in mid-1800s, that a “Jawee Pakan [is] (an Arab Kling).” (Thomson, 1865: 84) [Page 20]

Peranakan Arab / Tuan Syed / Tok Sheikh
The Peranakan Arab were also called Tuan Syed and Tok Sheikh and marriage between them and the Indian Muslims caused future generations of Peranakan Arabs to be simply called mama, nana, mamu and so on depending on social preference.  [Page 20]

The Malays in their generosity, added the honorific Tok, reserved for an elderly or aristocratic person, in front of the existing title, shaykh, giving the Arabs, the “glamour of piety” and with wealth this became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy with the Tok Sheikh becoming some of the most wealthy and respected personalities in the Muslim community of George Town. (Wazir, 2009: 135) [Page 21]

So exclusive was this identity that they saw the “real Penang Malays” (Melayu jati Pulau Pinang) as “orang seberang” (mainland/peninsula people), which was subjected to or a target of ridicule as they were regarded as “kampung” people (rural, therefore, backwards). If someone is inactive (mandom) or untidy (kolom) they are equated with the “orang seberang”. (Zakiah Hanum, 1985: 23) Penang are in two parts, the island and a strip of land on the peninsula which under colonial rule was called Province Wellesley and after independence, Seberang Prai. In the table below are some examples of the influence of Arabic in the Malay language. [Page 21]

Some of these tendencies gave rise to a growing rift between the Malay and Indian Muslim communities, a direct result of different experiences of Islam, cultural backgrounds and geographical origins. The clash of civilizations was to rear its ugly head in the fragmentation along racial lines, reflected in the use of derogatory terms such as Darah Keturunan Keling (Kling by descent) and Darah Keturunan Arab (Arab by descent). The forces of communalism won the day, pressuring peoples of Indian, Arab and Indonesian origin to conform and “masuk Melayu” (enter the Malay fold), at the same time rescinding their original cultural identity and ethnicity. [Page 30]

Persatuan Melayu Pulau Pinang / Dr Kamil Mohamed Arif / Captain Mohamad Nor bin Mohamad
The constitutional provision of what constitutes Malay also applied to Penang. In 1933, the Penang Malay Association (Persatuan Melayu Pulau Pinang) submitted a memorandum to the Colonial Office in London, for the creation of a Malay reservation in Air Itam. The memorandum was drafted by Dr. Kamil Mohamed Arif, Captain Mohamad Nor bin Mohamad and Captain Syed Salleh Alsagoff. A piece of land in Air Hitam costing $40,000 was purchased for the purpose and the settlement became known as Kampung Melayu, Air Itam, the one and only Malay reservation in the Straits Settlement [Page 42]

***Captain Mohamad Noor bin Shaik Ahmad is in Dr Che Lah bin Md Joonos' family tree ***

Pages 3, 8, 12, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 30, and 42.

Abdur-Razzaq Lubis: