Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Francis Light

Who was Francis Light? What did he do for Penang?

He went to school in Britain. He and his friend scratched their names on a school glass window. This glass piece is on display at the Penang Museum. Was he a naughty boy? It was difficult to view the name inscription as the lighting was off the glass block. With insufficient lighting, glass on a wooden block just appears dark brown.

Francis Light was a young British gentleman who came to obtain a trading post for the British East India Company. He could speak English, Siamese and Malay fluently. Mastery of the 3 languages was his strongest skill and led to him winning an important island for the British - Penang. 

Some Malays and many others still hold the view that he 'stole' Penang from the Malays as he had no proper papers to say he had obtained a trading post legally from the Kedah sultan. Penang was then part of the Kedah Sultanate.

When Francis Light arrived in Penang, there were already many areca (nut) palm planted for commerce. Light then named the island Penang, after the highly prized areca nut. The Malay word for the arena nut is buah pinang (meaning penang nut or fruit). Thus, the island became known as Pulau Pinang (island of the areca nuts and of course the areca nut palm). The Penang flag bears the areca palm.

So visitors after Francis Light should expect to see a lot of the areca nut palms grown on the island. Do we still have areca nut palm on Penang island today? Yes, we still can see a number of these palms all over the island. The areca nut palm is both a commercial and a garden palm. The areca fruit is green and turns a bright orange when ripe. [Please read my other post on the areca nut.]

Francis Light named a few structures in Penang. He named 4 roads - Light Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street. Chulia Street was formerly Malabar Street. Pitt Street is now Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling.

Francis Light left a long Will. I did not read his Will at the Penang Museum as I did not have time. In my opinion, if he had obtained the trading post in Penang illegally then all his documents are also illegal and his Will is also null and void.

The other great person in Penang who also left his Will was the founder of Masjid Kapitan Keling, Cauder Mohinuddin or Kader Merican, the founder of the famed Merican clan in Malaya. I have a copy of his Will and have read it. His Will is valid in the civil court and also in Syariah court. The original Will may have been in Tamil and may have been translated for a specific purpose.