The clan houses of Penang

Clan houses has always been part and parcel of Penang, that they never really occupy my thoughts. So, I do not claim to be very knowledgeable on this topic. However, after walking around the Penang’s heritage site area for the Chinese New Year Cultural and Heritage Celebration, I was fascinated by the number of clan houses there are in Penang.

During the 1800s and 1900s, there was a huge stream of Chinese immigrants, primarily from Fujian province of China, who arrived in Penang. The many immigrants from Fujian province also explained why the Chinese in Penang are using the dialect Hokkien from the area. In order to maintain a sense of community for the new immigrants, the Chinese formed clans associations and build clan houses.

These clan houses, also called “kongsi” in Hokkien, are usually part meeting hall and part temple for the clan. These clan associations were based on surnames or the area (or clan) that the Chinese are formed. Some of the surname-based clan houses are the Khoo Kongsi, Tan Kongsi, Cheah Kongsi, Lim Kongsi, Yeoh Kongsi, Yap Kongsi and many more. The area or clan based associations are the Hokkien Association, TeoChew Association, Hainan Association, Khek Association and others.

Over the years, as the clan associations became more and more prosperous and rich, the buildings grew to became more and more elaborate and magnificent. One of the finest in Penang is the Khoo Kongsi (below).

Each association has its own stories and history, and if I have the chance to learn more about them, I would share it with you. But this I know - when I was in school, my school mates would receive the odd money (from few ringgit to a few hundreds) for getting good grades in school from their clan associations. This, I guess, was just one of the many things that the association did to encourage the community to be part of the society in Malaysia.

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