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?

History of Singapore

This is probably the best write-up on the history of Singapore so far:

I still find that people don't write well about a place or country, and I get terribly upset when I read what people write about places. However, there are good write-ups in some blogs by both tourists and locals. There is one blog by an Australian from Darwin who visited Singapore with his wife and his write-up tells of a down-to-earth travelogue, with travel tips on bus travels. There is Feliza Ong who wrote about her trip with her wonderful friends to the Central Civil Defence (fire brigade) in Singapore.

Before tourists decide to visit a country, they usually buy up books and read up about possible places they wish to visit, and they also check-out related blogs. So blogs are important. I do the same - check everything to the minute details. What frustrates me is people don't write fully about things they know or experienced when they visit a place, eg a park or museum, or when they go on a river cruise.

Even though today is unlike the times before Merdeka, and almost every piece of information is online, there's nothing like writing well about a topic to give insight to other readers. We have been too dependent on professional journalists, authors, and the like to write of interesting places for us. These are brief and times have changed. The bloggers are their own journalists and authors today. I feel it is high time that the global public respects bloggers for bringing events and interesting sites to the fore but bloggers must try to do proper reporting, just like other professionals have done for other mass media.

I would call upon everyone to write and write as best as they can about places they have visited and what their experiences were. There's no point putting up a photo or an image of Merlion in Merlion Park, Singapore without describing what "merlions" are all about and what they mean to the Singapore community. The "merlion" maybe a symbol but it seems detached when nothing much is written about its origin and myth.

I would rather like to hear something like this about Merlion even I have not visited Singapore since from 1968/9....

"Singapore, a legendary name fused from two Sanskrit words, singa (lion) and pura (city) has a long history dating back to the times of the Indian empires of .... Previously known as "Tumasek" (literally 'water land' or 'water-logged land'), this name could have referred to the mangrove trees that once grew along its coast, thus making its coastal areas swampy. Since early travel routes from the nearby islands to Singapore was by sea, the swampy coastal areas were met first upon arrival in Singapore, and thus could have given Singapore its "Tumasek" name. The name, Singapura, is more recent historically but significant for in early maps by well-known cartographers, Singapore was presented by a small red dot.  Declared a republic following its cessation from Malaysia on 9 August 1965, Singapore developed very fast and surpassed all its neighbours to become a focus of modern trade, attracting some of the biggest investments by multinationals. Though modern and fast developing, Singapore is abreast in preserving its history and culture. Merlion is a symbol of Singapore's modernity and rich cultural blend. Merlion is a hybrid structure comprising a lion's face fused with a mermaid's body (mermaid + lion = merlion). This structure was chosen for tigers once roamed the island and the mermaid is symbolic for the beauty of its clean waters which befits mermaids...." 

When written as above, I would want to visit Singapore right this instant! Same thing with "Little India" and all the other places. When you write, please do include the beauty of a place and its people, the ambiance etc. Most people write about the architectural grandeur and that can be very dry when other pages write the same thing.