Thursday, 17 March 2011

Pilgrimage and take-off from Ghat Leboh Aceh

While driving around to locate Masjid Lebuh Aceh, I had come into Ghat Leboh Aceh, an empty road surrounded on both sides by dilapidated buildings, godowns? I took two snapshots of the buildings where we had made a u-turn. 

Today, I took a close look at the walls of the buildings and the bricks used for the walls. I had visited Masjid Kapitan Keling earlier on 18 November 2008. I noticed that the way the bricks were arranged in the walls of the 'godowns' at Ghat Leboh Aceh were the same as for the open-roof mausoleum in the grounds of Masjid Kapitan Keling, adjacent to Bangunan Nordin. Bangunan Nordin was named in honour of Kapitan Keling's younger brother, Nordin.

 Dilapidated buildings at Ghat Leboh Aceh in Penang, 2011. Courtesy of Faridah Abdul Rashid.
Mausoleum at Masjid Kapitan Keling in Penang, 2008. Courtesy of Faridah Abdul Rashid.

Ghat Leboh Aceh begins at Masjid Leboh Aceh and ends at the jetty where boats once docked. This place was once a busy place for pilgrims to prepare for their epic voyage to the holy land. "Ghat" is a landing place.

An important note about this area is that steamers (kapal wap) were used to take the pilgrims to Makkah and back. Health inspection of these steamers and areas surrounding the jetty would be crucial. I have not read accounts of the health inspection at this place. The steamers were owned or rented by rich Malays of Arab descent.

The steamers were not local and therefore had belonged to other countries. China had owned most of the steamers. From China's medical history, plague was the most difficult to stop and many died of the disease. Since the steamers had plied between Japan, Borneo, Singapore before coming to Penang and sailing forth toward India and beyond, plague was an important disease to tackle. The steamers needed to be checked for rats and all the travellers had to be inspected by medical doctors.

An early Malay doctor, Dr Mohamed Ibrahim bin Shaik Ismail had written in his autobiography in Who's Who is Malaya 1925 (by Julius Fisher) that he had served on the steamer SS Sealda.

There is however, a book published that covers the pilgrims, their living quarters, activities in this area but not the health aspects. This book is "Straits Muslims: Diasporas of the northern passage of the Straits of Malacca" (2009) edited by (Prof Datuk Dr) Wazir Jahan Karim.

Page 78 mentions that around 1821, a wealthy Singapore Arab merchant, Sayyid Ahmad Alsagoff (otherwise known as Sayyid Ahmad bin 'Abd al-Rahman al-Saqqaf) had purchased two steamers, Sri Mekah and Sri Juddah, to serve the people of Sumatra and Penang. He also had chartered ships which then plied and dominated the Jeddah-Singapore pilgrimage sea route. [A photograph of the later Alsagoff brothers was supplied by Dr Mohamed Tahir Ahmad Ibrahim for inclusion in TEMD. The same photo of 1932 had a 37-year old Dr HS Moonshi in it.]

Page 80 mentions it took 13 days to sail from Penang port to Jeddah (this is only the onward leg). In another account of 1963, Dr Che Lah bin Md Joonos had mentioned (to me) that it took 3 months  (but he did not specify) . This "3 months" could be the total time for the onward leg, performance of the hajj rites and the return leg?