Penang happens to be one of the most culturally diverse states in Malaysia. Penang history is so rich and diverse, that a traveller would be spoilt for choice, as to what to do or where to visit, while in Penang. One very interesting place, rich with culture that lives on till today, is the Weld Quay clan jetties.
According to history, when Chinese migrants from the Fujian Province of China came to Penang in the mid-19th century they had no money to buy land or houses. So, what did they do? They built community villages on water and each village was occupied by families of the same surname. Since they were originally fishermen, most of them became fishermen, while others took advantage of the port and became boatmen, porters and labourers. Sometime in the 1970’s, jobs were no longer as available as before to these people anymore as the port lost its free port status. This forced most of the settlers to leave the port in search of other job opportunities, while others turned to fishing.
UNESCO has given the Weld Quay clan jetties the UNESCO World Heritage status. This has turned things around for the jetty settles. It has now become a popular tourist destination, constantly flocked by tourist, the residents of the clan jetties are more than happy to share their life stories with visitors. Some of these people look like they’re still living in the 50’s because of its infrastructure. You will actually feel like you have been transported back to the 1950’s while visiting the Weld Quay clan jetties. This is because not much has changed infrastructure wise. As a responsible traveler, one should explore these clan jetties with an open mind and not judge it as a rundown housing area or worst still be disappointed.
As the younger set has left the settlement to go and live in houses and apartments, the remaining settlers of the Weld Quay clan jetties have turned their homes and empty lots into a tourist heaven, providing Penang souvenirs. There are also barber shops, utility stores, coffee shops and some settlers even let you stay in their homes for a fee, giving you the opportunity first hand to know what its likes to live on a jetty. Of the many jetties that were built originally, only six remain till today which are The Lim Jetty, The Chew Jetty, The Tan Jetty, The Lee Jetty, The Yeoh Jetty and The Mixed Clan Jetty (the only jetty where a variety of clans live).
The best time to visit the Weld Quay clan jetties is when there are celebrations or festivals going on, such as the Hungry Ghost Festival, the Nine Emperor Gods festivals or the Jade Emperor’s birthday which falls on the ninth day of Chinese New Year. Ecotourism is also about embracing the local culture, so check your calendar before you make your trip to Penang. These are festivals not to be missed, with bright colours, culture and heritage at its peak; it’s a must to see sight. Also as a responsible traveler, be respectful towards their culture by making positive gestures instead of negative remarks or mocking these festivals. Remember, a tourist is a representative of a foreign country while on holiday.