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My Penang - Pearl of the Orient by mymalaysiabooks



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MY PENANG - History

History of Pulau Pinang

To understand the diversity and mixed cultural heritage of the communities in Penang, it is necessary to peep into the history of the state - Penang is a place that truly reflect the diverse cultures of Asia, history and traditions.


Statue of Sir Francis Lignt at Fort Conwallis, Penang island

Statue of the Sir Francis Light at the Esplanade, Penang


Kedah Sultanate

The island of Penang was once a pirate haven, belonging to the Kedah Sultanate. (Earlier history of Penang at History of Kedah)

Between 1758 and 1777, fighting continuously erupted between Siam and Burma. The Kedah Sultanate appealed to the British for assistance. As inducements to a commitment, the Sultan of Kedah promised to lease Penang Island to the East India Company. Captain Francis Light was appointed to propose this to the British Governor General in Calcutta. Nevertheless, before an agreement was formed, Light landed on Penang Island (at the Esplanade), hoisted the Union Jack and took formal possession of the island.

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Penang Town Hall, George Town, Penang

Town Hall - Penang


British Control

    When the financial settlement also failed to materialize, the Sultan recruited the help of pirates to take back the island in 1791. Unfortunately, Kedah was defeated and the shore opposite Penang Island was also attacked by Light. The Sultan of Kedah, was forced to further ceded a strip of mainland (on the peninsular) to the British. This strip of land was named Province Wellesley after the Governor of India (today called Seberang Perai - map of Penang). Penang soon became a British colonial administrative centre.  


Located at the northern end of the Straits of Malacca (Melaka), the settlement on the island of Penang grew into a port and  trading post during the 18th century, attracting traders and settlers from far-flung corners of the world. With trade came immigrants - Chinese, Indians, Burmese, Europeans, Armenians, Bugis and Arabs, began settling in Penang.

Peraanakan Museum, George Town, Penang

During the 19th century, the East Indian Company opened Penang to settlers, attracting Asian immigrants such as Chinese and Indian from Kedah and other Malay States, Siamese, Bugis, Burmese, Sumatrans, Armenians and many others. Penang was declared a free port and developed rapidly, serving as a safe stopover for British ships plying the Straits on the China Trade route.


Under the British, Penang together with Malacca and Singapore formed a single administrative unit called the Straits Settlement, administered under the British Colonial Office in India. Penang flourished and was recognized as a major trading post for trade in spices, tea, china, and others. The island was also famed for its clove and nutmeg, and served as a port for the export of goods such as coconut, rubber and tin from the surrounding mainland. However Penang lost much of her external trade with the opening of Singapore in the later years.

In 1941, Penang and the rest of the Malay peninsular fell to the Japanese, with the Japanese occupation lasting three years until the British reoccupied Malaya in 1945. Penang stayed under British Colonial rule until 1957 when it became part of the Federation of Malaya.

Penang Today

This ingestion and fusion of different races, beliefs and customs through the centuries have contributed to Penang's rich tradition and culture today. The administrative capital, George Town is today a UNESCO World heritage site, a cosmopolitan city with multicultural heritage.

Growth of Penang continued steadily into the 1960’s and 1970’s and the island as a free port was a shopping haven. Unfortunately, in 1970s, he state suffered a great loss when the Federal Government withdrew the free port status, the island struggled to find a new source of income – turning to manufacturing. The industrialization programme took off with the establishment of the country’s first Free Trade Zone at Bayan Lepas and the hub today is a ‘Silicon Valley’ of Malaysia

Streets of Little India, George Town Penang


Fort Cornwallis



Islamic Museum, Armenian Street, Gorge Town, Penang

Islamic Museum, Penang


Lim Kongsi, Chinese clanhouse, Penang

Lim Kongsi (Chinese Clan house)


Masjid Kapitan Keling 19th Century mosque


Nonya Kebaya (clothings) of the Nyonyas (ladies)


 Note: The Peranakans or Baba and Nonyas (as sometimes called to) refer to early Chinese migrants who came to the Malay peninsular from the 18th century to 19th century. Some married Malays or are decendents of 'old' Chinese families who assimilated many cultural practices of the Malays into their Chinese culture. Though their cultural practices and spoken dialect differ from that of Chinese, they are administratively not classified as a cultural group and are classified as Chinese. (Nyonya is spelt Nonya in Singapore)


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Ooi Kongsi, Chinese Clan House

Ooi Kongsi, Penang Road(clan hus of the Ooi clan)


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