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June 2009

The Foochows of Sitiawan: A Historical Perspective

By |2009-06-11T13:56:56+08:00June 11th, 2009|Categories: Heritage Books|Tags: , , , , , |


Following on from my two previous posts about the Foochows of Sitiawan, here is the promised image of the book referred to.

Written by Shih Toong Siong, a descendant of those first immigrants the book tells the story of the Foochows since 1903. They were a ‘population transplant’, for a rice growing experiment, fully paid for by the British Colonial Administration and brokered by 3 Methodist Ministers known as ‘The Pioneers’. The scheme was a failure, but they were saved by the boom in rubber which they were able to grow successfully on their ‘Chinese Only’ land given to them by the government. The book endeavours to establish the very beginnings of the various schools, towns and churches of today’s Sitiawan.

There is also a fascinating section about a young schoolboy Ong Boon Hua, better known today as Chin Peng.

The ISBN is 983-41824-0-6 and it retails at RM49.00

The Foochows of Sitiawan / Kampong Sitiawan

By |2009-06-07T10:06:33+08:00June 7th, 2009|Categories: Memories|Tags: , , , |

In my last post I featured the Sitiawan Settlement Museum within the Kampong Koh Memorial Garden. Now, you may not know about this aspect of Sitiawan, which actually has an unusual past that is rarely spoken about. Have you ever wondered why – or did you not know – that Sitiawan has the Foochows?

Foochow (Fuzhou) is the capital of Fujian province in China and you may be surprised to learn that on 9th September 1903 (known locally as “double nine day”, an auspicious day for local Foochows), 303 Christian immigrants from there landed at a jetty in the Sitiawan River, with 60 more arriving one week later. These were recruits of a scheme run by three Methodist missionaries (known as The Pioneers). More surprising was the fact that these missionaries were contracted by the British administration, led by Federated Malay States (FMS) High Commissioner Sir John Anderson GCMG KCB, to bring in up to 100,000 recruits to grow padi. This was how the British planned to feed the hundreds of coolies working in the Perak tin mines. The Foochows were to be given land to live and grow the rice in the fields around the river. However the scheme failed at once because no more volunteers actually followed the first 363 on their journey to Perak.

The 363 men, women and children were eventually given individual family lots of land of 3 acres (in Foochow they were promised 6 acres) within the government allocated missionary land, but true to tradition, the plots were not ready and there were only seven longhouses available, some 3 to 4 miles away from the jetty, through thick jungle. This, their first settlement, called Kampong Sitiawan, was still (just) standing on our last visit. (see photograph).

Nonetheless, while living in crowded conditions, at more than 50 to a house, for the next six months, these settlers started work, cutting their plots out of the jungle and building their new homes. Thanks to the missionaries and their colleagues it was in 1904 that a church, a school and an orphanage were built, all business being conducted in the Foochow dialect.

However, the British never did their homework well enough, for with only three acres of non-fertile land, the rice harvest was far from abundant and the programme suffered its second failure, leaving the settlers with no livelihood. Consequently 57 ran away to the tin mines in Kinta Valley (less than 80Km away) and the remainder struggled on. Fortunately, for the suffering settlers, this was the beginning of the period of rubber plantations in Malaysia and the remaining families transferred their attentions to this new crop with great success.

Jumping ahead about 100 years, if you talk to any born and bred Christian Chinese in Sitiawan today, they are probably descendants of those original 363 immigrants, for there are many of them. This has given them a tradition of their own, which in turn has given them a focus on their past that many Malaysian groups would be jealous of. This has also kept the families together and in Kampung Koh they have established a memorial garden dedicated to the original settlers and the Pioneers that brought them here. Within this garden there is the 1927 Settlement Church with its Private Museum (by appointment only) depicting the history of the settlers and their descendants. A senior citizens’ centre, a children’s nursery and a multi-purpose hall complete the complex. This is a great achievement for today’s small group of some 300 parishioners and shows just what can be done for heritage if the will is there. Behind the church is an unusual cemetery serving both Christians and non-Christians where one of the Pioneers, Reverend Ling Ching Mi, is buried.

Finally, if this short account has interested you, then you may like to know that a descendant of those settlers has published an excellent book. It is the first available publication that tells the story in detail of the Foochow immigrants and their descendants. It is called, aptly enough, “The Foochows of Sitiawan” (ISBN 983-41824-0-6) and retails at RM49.00. I shall feature the book in my next post. 

The Sitiawan Settlement Museum

By |2016-08-05T10:53:00+08:00June 5th, 2009|Categories: Museums|Tags: , , , |

Sometime ago we made an afternoon visit to the Settlement Museum within the Kampong Koh Memorial Garden.  Opened in September 2003 and sited in the 70 year-old house of the Methodist Pastor, the museum traces the Foochow settlers’ history from leaving their original homeland in China in 1903 until the present day.  This history covers, not only the Sitiawan settlers, but also their earlier counterparts who, as part of a previous scheme were brought to settle in East Malaysia.

The wonderful thing about this museum, when compared to those under the National or State Governments, is that this tribute to the past has been put together entirely by volunteers and private funds.  This is a positive demonstration of what can be done by a small dedicated group of people who share a common purpose.  They should be congratulated on their achievement, particularly as the Church group that organised it only has about 300 parishioners and already runs the church, a senior citizen’s centre and a multi purpose hall, all within a nicely maintained and historic garden, which contains the original antique wells that once were the only water supply for the residents of the entire area.  If only more small groups could be similarly motivated! 

Within the museum there is a photographic history on the ground floor, together with showcases protecting a number of smaller and interesting artifacts.  Upstairs there are examples of settlers clothing, furniture, early electrical items, cameras, musical instruments, home and office equipment and more historic photographs.  Downstairs again and in the maid’s areas, there are old bicycles, domestic equipment, farming and forestry tools, bottles, jars and more.  Indeed the exhibits clearly demonstrate the Sitiawan settler’s life across the years and the range is as wide as it can be.  This is a museum for ordinary people about ordinary people and well worth a visit.

But visiting has to be planned and booked with the organisers, for a young volunteer organisation like this cannot be expected to be open all the time in the way that a government museum is.  So if this article takes your fancy and you would like to see the Settlement Museum at first hand then please call 05 6920612 and give at least two weeks notice.  They will be pleased to welcome you.


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