The Weld Quay Clan Jetties Waterfront Settlement
The houses used to have atap roofs but these have since been replaced with zinc sheets. The six clan jetties may be located at the backwaters of George Town but the 6ha area is home to a priceless piece of Penang’s history and a living heritage that serves as a reminder of one of South East Asia’s most important maritime ports.
The birth place of many community leaders and successful merchants, Weld Quay is a crime-free settlement – a claim several residents attest to.
Here, people consider their neighbours family and would bend over backwards to help each other – a rarity in this modern day and age.
The settlement’s oldest resident is 91-year-old great-grandfather Chew Boon Cheang. The friendly old chap doesn’t speak a word of English but will flash the warmest smile whenever he sees a tourist visiting the settlement.
His parents were pioneer immigrants who came to seek their fortune here more than a century ago. Lured by the promise of a better future for their poor families back home, Chinese immigrants from the different clans settled here and lived in groups according to their provinces. The five main clans at the jetties are Lim, Chew, Tan, Lee and Yeoh. There other immigrants stayed together at the Chap Seh Keo (Mixed Surname Jetty).
In the old days, traders from Myanmar (then Burma), Acheh and Medan in Indonesia, and Kerabi and Phuket in Thailand would come to Penang, providing opportunities for the Weld Quay settlers who were mainly boatmen, fishermen, odd-job labourers and porters, to earn a good living.
Today, the young ones, who no longer depend on the sea for a living, have moved out of the settlement while their elders continue to enjoy the wooden jetties’ laidback lifestyle.
During the Thee Kong Seh (Jade Emperor’s birthday), Phor Tor (Hungry Ghost Festival) and Kew Ong Yeah (Nine Emperor Gods) festivals, everyone comes home to dutifully embrace their religion, culture and life at the settlement. Indeed, these are the best opportunities for foreign tourists to observe some of the most interesting local ceremonies in Malaysia!
The Chew Jetty residents are particularly busy on the ninth day of Chinese New Year. That is when they celebrate the Jade Emperor’s birthday by making offerings on a 20m-long altar decorated with huge sugarcanes and colourful dragon and fish motive joss sticks. Roasted piglets, traditional cakes and fruits are offered to the deity as fireworks are lit at the stroke of midnight.
At the Lim Jetty, elaborate floats take to the streets during the Hungry Ghost Festival while stage performances are held for the wandering spirits and deities.
To mark the end of the annual Kew Ong Yeah (Nine Emperor Gods) Festival, devotees who follow a strict nine-day vegetarian diet are let by mediums to the edge of the sea to “send off” the deities. Lost in a deep trance, these mediums perform mind-boggling feats like bathing in hot oil, walking over hot coals and piercing their bodies with long, sharp objects.