Started merely as a wooden passageway and slowly created into a cluster of houses perch above the sea shores by stilts above the never ending shifting tides, this communal site is locked in a time zone by itself, disregarding the urban development that is taking place around it.
Penang being a heritage town is rich with attractive historic sites and cultural events, but this inimitable settlement stands out as a truly unique living heritage. The Chew Jetty is actually a whole settlement of wooden houses built on silts and the name “Chew” is the surname (the first name) of the residences and that’s where the name was derived. Migrant’s families with this surname would live together in this area.
These clusters of wooden houses were built by the Chinese poor immigrants who work near the port during the nineteen century. These immigrants migrated from the south-eastern coast of China, known as the Fujian Province over here due to the hardship they face in their homeland during that era. Later they brought their families over and made this waterfront their home. The Chew Jetty is still home to hundreds of people living in this area today but many have changed their social and economic lifestyle.
The jetty was initially rows of plank supported by stilts constructed as platform for passengers embarking and disembarking from the boats to the shores and vice versa. Later on, these platforms were joined together to become a jetty. As of today, not many people know the reason why these wooden houses were build on stilts by the side of the jetty. Furthermore, houses built on stilts was not a common practice in these immigrants homeland but more of the South East Asia adaptation. As more houses were built, wooden walkways and alleys branch out from the main jetty to become a cluster of home for these immigrants and their families.
The houses were built on an ad hoc basis and close to each other, with some separated by a small alley to allow sea breeze to pass through for the cooling effect. Some of the plank that runs between the narrow and twisted walkway used today are of the original ones. The jetty houses may look old and depleted but surprising very clean and tidy inside. Water and electricity was installed for them in 1954. You able to find even a well stock grocery store, and most houses has modern amenities like air-conditions, television, fridges – a proof that modernization can juxtapose with traditional lifestyle.
For visitors to Penang, this site is a fascinating and must not be missed out in the itinerary. One step on to the wooden walkways you will be able to “feel” the ambience from the surrounding that exudes a sense of nostalgia in this unique waterborne community. You get a pip of the sea below you as you walk along the wooden platform through the gaps in the floorboard. Walking further down towards the sea will lead you to a world that is half forgotten and serene. Just on your left you will see a contrasting sight, the modern hustling and bustling Penang harbour.
At the end of the jetty you are able to capture a panoramic view of the port and the activities between the mainland and the island with also magnificent glimpses of the third longest bridge in the world as you gaze to the horizon of the Straits of Malacca. In the night the whole scenario changes as the amber lights from the lamp post fall on the wooden houses and the surrounding to give it a warm and cozy atmosphere.
Visitors should come and witness the clan religious activities which are colourful and deep with traditional ceremonies. The most elaborate and grand celebration is the worship of Jade Emperor (Sky God) on the eight day of the Chinese New Year. Every resident would prepare their offering of food by lying them jointly on a 50 meter long alter by the side of the main road.
The alter is surrounded by many huge decorated and colourful giant joss sticks. The table sides are tied together with sugarcane and red origami paper hanging from the sugar cane stem. At the stroke of midnight fireworks are let off, turning the street into a magical sight.
Tourists who wish to experience the traditional lifestyle and a layback holiday could opt for a home stay in this settlement itself. The scheme was started by one of the residents thus enabling you to get a firsthand experience in this unique settlement. You could leisurely explore the surrounding which one would normally not be able to do so in a few hours of visit. The hospitality is unendingly friendly and one can experience a sense of the clan kinship within this community that has existed centuries ago. Boat rides can be arranged around the ports and nearby islet and Penang Bridge, if the weather permits. The home is a stroll away to all the heritage sites of inner George Town and the main bus depot of Rapid Penang and the iconic Penang ferry terminal.
There are another five other clan communities similar to the Chew Jetty lining in a row along Weld Quay and together they are known as the Clan Jetties or Weld Quay Jetties. The Chew Clan is by far the largest among the Weld Quay family of clans. Not only are these communities unique and the oldest surviving cluster settlement in Penang, the Clan Jetty is a priceless piece of Penang’s history and significantly contributing to the rich cultural heritage.
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