In 1786 Francis Light, a British naval captain, audaciously and rapaciously claimed for the British Crown, the Kedah island of Pulau Kesatu (First Island) or Binlang Xu, as the Ming dynastic Admiral Zheng He denoted in his 15th Century nautical chart.
Captain Light re-named it as Prince of Wales Island, as his ship came upon the isle on the birthday of the heir to the British throne. It subsequently became Penang Island or as we know it today, Pulau Pinang. Mind you, I much prefer Pulau Kesatu which helps remind those 'mainlanders' ;-) who we Penangites are.
In exchange for British protection against the frequently maurading Siamese and Burmese intruders, the Sultan of Kedah ceded the isle to the British on 11 August 1786, making Penang a Crown colony. But typically of the treacherous British colonialists, they played the Sultan out when they refused to intervene during a Siamese raid. Apparently Francis Light made that agreement without consulting his superiors who chose not to offend the Siamese.
When the pissed-off Sultan tried to recover Penang because of the non-fulfilment of the agreement, the Brits naturally told him to bugger off but as a patronising consolation prize, provided the Sultan with 6000 Spanish dollar per annum. Trust the Poms to even con the Sultan of an additional chunk of the Kedah mainland, Province Wellesley or Sebarang Perai. It was ceded to the Brits in 1798 to became part of the Penang Crown colony.
With the Brits, the Island soon had its municipal council, and we are now reminded by Datuk Anwar Fazal, a trustee of the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) that:
“The centenary celebration of Penang’s municipal status was held from Jan 1 to Jan 3, 1957, and the grand occasion was attended by some 5,000 dignitaries including the sultans from several states.”
“There were chingay demonstrations, a decorated vehicle procession, wayang kulit displays and cross-channel swimming matches.”
“During the celebration, George Town was also granted city status by England’s Queen Elizabeth.”
“Sadly, we seem to have forgotten both historic events as there is nothing planned by the state to mark this occasion.”
He forgot to add that the Chinese chingay parade had a nasty association with a 1953 racial riot as had broken out along Jalan Perak when the mainly Chinese participants paraded through a Malay kampong to celebrate the coronation of a then young Elizabeth II. Penang (and Malaya) was then still a British colony.
The Penang Malays saw nothing to celebrate in a British queen's ascendancy to the throne of a foreign country, and from some old timers, they took to jeering the chingay troope and lion dancers. Some alleged that stones were thrown at the lion dancers which was a bad move, considering those people were members of martial arts club.
But basically the Penang Malays have never like (nor want) to acknowledge the British history in the development of Penang. It may explain why the statue of Francis Light was bundled off to some obscure corner in (would it be?) Farqhuar Street.
In 1986, when Penang ‘celebrated’ its bicentennial, some UMNO blokes protested, saying that we shouldn’t be celebrating a dark period when we were oppressed by western colonialism where a sovereign part of Kedah was robbed by foreigners.
Now, the PHT has slammed the state government for not organising any special event today to celebrate the golden jubilee of George Town’s city status and the 150th anniversary of the state’s municipal status. Datuk Anwar Fazal described the omission as a missed opportunity.
Well, my dear Datuk, do you imagine for one instant that Raja Bodek is going to annoy UMNO by having a celebration that would provocatively remind them of their subservience to British colonialism, much as we Penangites like to celebrate anything?