14 Mar A Look into Penang’s Past
A Look into Penang’s Past
Dubbed the Pearl of the Orient, Penang has held the interest of many tourists over the years. Among others, it is known as Malaysia’s food haven and historical city. But beyond that, Penang is proving to be a rapidly developing city.
Located in the northern region of Malaysia, Penang Island was, once upon a time, an important trade route for Europe, the Middle East, India and China because of its strategic location at the northern entry to the Straits of Malacca. What’s more, the Straits of Malacca was located exactly at the crossing of the two monsoon periods, which made Penang an ideal stopping spot for merchants while they waited for favourable weather to continue on their journey.
Before it came to be a state of its own, Penang was part of the Kedah Sultanate, which in ancient records is credited as the first area to have Malaysian establishments. Its strategic location made Penang a focal centre for Indian merchants to collect merchandise, namely herbs, spices and gold. Come the ninth century, Penang began drawing the interest of Middle Eastern merchants who came for trade to Southeast Asia. This diverse group of merchants brought with them their religions and cultures, and that’s how Buddhism, Hinduism and, later on, Islam were introduced to the state and its people.
A new and defining chapter began for this humble state when, in 1786, Captain Francis Light landed there to establish a British trading settlement. His presence in Penang kicked off the development of roads, namely Lebuh Light (or Light Street, named after Captain Francis Light) along the northern coast, as well as Lebuh Pantai (or Beach Street).
To further attract people into Penang, Francis Light made it a free port. This drew in large settlers from near and far, so much so that come the 19th century, there were enclaves for the various Chinese, Tamil and Malay communities as well as the Armenians, Siamese, Burmese and Eurasians.
This fusion of cultures continues to be prevalent today in the state’s architecture, cuisine and overall vibe. It is no wonder then that Penang is a top tourist attraction and continues to draw tourists from near and far.