Kongsi is the official name given to the clan houses or meeting halls for overseas Chinese with the same family name. Many Chinese came to Penang in the early 19th century and they were predominately single men, without any other immediate family in Malaya. They would often worked and lived on small vessels moored around what is now Swettenham Pier which is near the current ferry terminal in George Town. Later, they built houses on stilts over the water that became known as the Clan Jetties. Eventually each jetty became associated with a particular clan but today only six jetties survive. Those of the same extended family or clan began setting up kongsi in various parts of Penang.
Kongsi in Penang
A myriad of Chinese clan houses dot George Town and most are around 200 years old. The ornate carvings of flowers or animals depicting luck and prosperity add to the grandeur of these old building as they’re surreptitiously caught on camera by Mark Walker
Moey She Temple
Probably of Hainan descent, this elderly man enjoys his morning paper while waiting for temple to officially open for the day. The clan associations still play an active part in the lives of the local people, especially the older generation, who meet every day to worship, clean and generally look after the temple facilities. The intricate ceramic work depicting swirling dragons – restored to its former glory in 1995 – on the roof of the temple is beautiful when captured on a clear bright day. Located on Lebuh Muntri, its building began in 1866 and was competed almost 30 years later. The temple is dedicated to Mar Chor who is the patron saint of seafarers. The Hainanese, from Hainan province in China, are famous for their seafaring and culinary skills.
This is, perhaps, the most well-known kongsi in Penang. This spectacular temple has an entrance on Lebuh Cannon with two green stone lions – the male on the right and female with a cub on the left – guarding it. There’s a gold and black plaque to honour the two patron saints of the Khoo clan. The story goes that Tua Sai Yah the great Duke and Ong Soon Yah the great Noble were generals in the army during the 4th century Jin Dynasty and they defeated a much larger opposing army using their own unique tactics of trapping them in the trees and grasses near the River Fei. Due to this cunning tactic that saved the dynasty, they were later deified.