Early settlement history
In the year 1918 the Chinese ancestor of Chew Jetty heard that jobs were aplenty
here in Penang. Many were attracted to earn a living over here. As the number of
foreign ships that anchored at the harbour increased, so did the stilts.
Initially, planks were placed on the stilts to enable passengers to disembark
without getting wet. Later on, the planks were joined together to construct a
In the 1940s, the clan jetties did not escape the hardship under the Japanese
Occupation (1942 to 1945). During those years, all marine activities, including
ferrying and fishing, were restricted and the settlers were forced to buy stale,
rotting fish in the market. This prompted some of them to saw a hole in their
huts' timber floors for clandestine midnight fishing.
When the British resumed governance
of Malaya, the clansmen's lives returned to normal. In 1954, two basic utilities
— water supply and electricity — were installed for them.
Livelihood at Chew Jetty
Children, especially, roam freely in between one houses to another. Space is so
partitioned that what is occurring in one such context may be completely unknown
to those occupying another, virtually adjacent space just a few feet away.
Networks and intra-communal schisms of neighbours no doubt determine who
affiliates with what network upon the Jetty, but the complexity of this pattern
defies description. In these settings, one can find the daily rhythms of life on
the Jetty which always proceeds at a relaxed pace in the heat. On hot days
people tend to remain indoors more, but come out in the evenings to sit on their
front porches to talk and cool off . People on the Jetty enjoy a relatively good
quality of life, despite the incessant heat alleviated only by the sea breezes
that rarely penetrate the center of the Jetty. They mostly do not live in fear
of their neighbours, and their doors are always open. People have lived in the
same house for generations now. There is an interesting pattern of cooking in
homes and selling to the other people of the Jetty. Several households engage in
this activity on a regular basis, one house cooking mostly "koay teow tung"
(soup) and "mee" (noodles) and another cooking "rumpah hu," (fried fish stuffed
with chili paddy), fried rice, "beehoon" (fine noodles), "lor bak" (pork
sausage), "chang" (rice dumplings), and other things. Children of all ages are
freely given money to buy whatever they may like during the day, and there seem
to be few restrictions concerning consumption of candy or coffee by small
children. Children often wend skinny-dipping in the sea during high tide season.
Those days, dragon boat races were held among the clans on the fifth day of the
fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The gaily-decorated boats bearing the
banners of the various clans, were a sight to behold as the clans battled for
honours. However, jealousy and envy soon ravaged sportsmanship among the clans,
leading to the eventual transfer of the organising of the races to the State
Yearly, the Weld Quay settlements take on a carnival atmosphere when they
celebrate the birthday of the Kew Ong Yah (Nine Emperor Gods).
Thousands of devotees and tourists would turn up to give a rousing send-off to
the float that carries images of the deities. At the waterfront, the sacred
float is lowered onto a fishing boat accompanied by temple officials carrying an
urn. As the fishing boat leaves the shore, devotees would clasp their hands in
The devotees will go quite far out to sea until the lights from the shore are
mere flickers. Then, they seek the spirits' advice on the most favourable
location to set adrift the float. They normally do this by using the divine
blocks (two kidney-shape pieces of wood)."
In another annual religious festival, the Chew clan worships the Jade Emperor on
the eve of the ninth day of the Chinese New Year in grandeur and style.
Here, a 50m-long food-laden altar takes centre stage. Piled high on adjoining
tables is a sumptuous array of delectable — including roast pig, chicken, duck,
fruits, red tortoise buns (mi ku in Hokkien), miniature rock sugar pagodas and
A little after midnight, instead of the usual burst of firecrackers, the rousing
beats of 15 Chinese drums would roll as two prancing "lions" take to the
With its interesting blend of cultural and religious activities, life at the
Weld Quay settlements is never dull.
Today, over a century later, the Weld Quay area looks much the same — untouched
by the development that has taken place all around. Homes and sundry
shops-on-stilts flourish, while Indah Water sewerage bills are unheard of here.
A few changes, though, have taken place. For one, the residents now no longer
depend on the sea for a living; many of them work on land, as hawkers, factory
hands, shop owners and clerks.
The residents too have seen a decrease in vessels docking at the harbour since
the 1980s. Compared with the days of old when hundreds of vessels docked at the
jetties, an average of only about 50 ferries are seen these days.