The Case of Koay Jetty

koay jetty

The Koay Jetty are the descendents of the Hui, Arabs and Han Chinese people who settled in Malaysia some point in time a few hundred years ago. Over the course of time their belief system has evolved into a mixture of Chinese traditional religions and Islam. Here is an except on an article about these people from one of the bloggers from Malaysia.

 History of Guo Arab Clan in Fujian, South China

The 郭 Koay clan which is among the Hui clan in Penang Island in the essay of Prof. Ong’s essay are the descents of this Arab known as I-Pen-Khu-Se Tek-Kwan-Kong. I don’t know how to write these in Chinese characters it sounds like Fujianese and I am not literate in the dialect. This guy created a Chinese name for himself Koay Tek Kwan. During Ming dynasty around 1376, an Arab clan in China led by this guy known as Koay Teng Hui moved into a village known as Pek Kee in Quanzhou in the province of Hui An. This clan brought with them 30 chapters of the Quran. The descents also opened nine settlements with 13 clan villages.

The Pek Kee village was near the port of Quanzhou or as Arabs called it as Zaytun. It is facing Taiwan across the Straits. It was a famous port with minorities of Persian adn Arab merchants. It was founded since 8th century and reached its zenith during Mongol’s dynasty. To be accepted by mainstream Chinese society, this Arab clan used the surname created by their ancestors. They claimed themselves as the 郭 Guo who were the descents of a Muslim general from Tang dynasty which controlled the Turkestan and western part of Silk Route. In the same time, this general had promoted Tang civilization so Chinese cultural sphere also expands to Central Asia. In Southern China, Chinese were called as Tang people not Han like in China. In Cantonese, Tang is also used to refer to Chinese people. Modern Cantonese perhaps using modern name of China to refer to Chinese people.

The fifth generation of the Koay Teng Hui guy found that their village of Pek Kee facing attacks by Han Chinese extremists. This is because a group of Hui had supported the Ming dynasty government to put down a rebellion of Hans in Fujian. As the consequence, the rebels attacked Hui villages all over Fujian. To protect the lives, the Koay villagers suppressed and hide their Muslim identity. They also intermarried Han women for generation and allowed Han women to rear pigs so the village would not be marked as a Muslim village.

In the emergency, the amirs of this Arab clan collectively announced a fatawa where they may consume pork as to protect their life from being threatened. However, they must die as a Muslim and return to their “true” religion when they almost die. The deceased family and relatives must also follow practices with “cultural rituals” for mourning at least 49 days and some up to three years. When a member of the clan died, an imam would go to the home of the deceased and place the glorious Quran on a new piece cloth laid over the table in front of the coffin. He would recite the Quran from the first page to the last. The he would advise the family to refrain from pork for 49 days.

This clan has complete genealogical records. In the genealogical book, there is a preamble reminding the clan members that they are Hui/Muslims. No longer in any danger, the eighth generation descents reverted to pure Muslim lifestyle and established a school and a masjid. However some of the were already assimilated into Han culture. Their life is heavily influenced by the Han Chinese surrounding them.

Part II

As Arab descents, the Koays were successful traders and seafarers. However, during Qing dynasty, their seafaring activities between Fujian and Taiwan (Formosa) were stopped by the government. This coupled with political and economic instability which caused the decline of Pek Kee Arab village.

History of Guo Arab Clan in Penang

The fortunes of Koays suffered. By the time this Arab clan from China reached Penang Island in late 19th century, they were merchants but without capital. Moreover, they had integrated with Han Chinese to the extent they had lost most of their original Arab traits.

When they reached Penang Island, they found that they shared the same language and the same culture as most Chinese immigrants from Fujian. The only difference was their religion. In Penang, they worked as traders, port coolies and boatmen. They were also in charcoal business. They rented four houses and lived together as a clan commune at Noordin Street. Around 1950s, they established a jetty at the end of Weld Quay (C. Y. Choy Rd.) It was the last clan jetty to be built. They found that they need support from mainstream Chinese community in Penang.

The Koay settlement in Penang saw themselves as an extension of their original clan village in China. The diaspora of this clan had also settled in Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia apart of other coastal South East Asia countries. They still kept close touch with their home village and with each other.

The following example, illustrates close networking among them. In 1946, the supreme leader of the clan in Hui An ordered funds to be raised for a school dedicated to the memory of Koay Chee Hong who was a martyr during anti-Japanese war who died in 1942. A letter was issued by clan leaders in Taiwan led by a chairman from Hui An authorizing the clan leaders of the Koay community in Penang to collect funds. The funds were to be remitted to Hui An where the school was to be built.

The Koay clan community in Penang had problems communicating with other Muslims in Penang though they were Muslims. They could not understand many of the latter’s practices. For example, belief in local saints was something alien to them and a masjid with onion dome did not look or feel like a masjid for them. On the other hand, they feel they were alienated from the larger Muslim community and on the other hand they feel closer to mainstream Chinese community and depended on their support to survive. As a result these people in Penang reverted to the fatawa of their fifth generation amirs.

In 1975, the Koay community in Penang published a notice which was to be framed and hung on the wall by every clansmen. The notice provides generational names to be followed by the Koay for 40 generations. The present generation of this Chinese speaking Arab descents can trace their genealogy back to between 17-22 generations. The notice stated that since early times they were in empire, they have been Muslims. They have been steadfast in their prayers and never changed it for generations…. After China became a republic, many of the clan came to South East Asia and were scattered all over Singapore and Malaysia. However due to great differences in human relations and environment they gradually departed and declined from Islamic teaching and ancestral path. But in the practice of remembering their Muslim ancestors, they will strictly observe halal food without pork. This is actually the fatawa of their fifth generation amirs. It shows that they never forgotten their origins.

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