Lecture Booklet - Penang Heritage Trust



Lecture Booklet - Penang Heritage Trust
Penang Muslims and Tamil Vernacular
Publics across the Bay of Bengal, 1880-1914
by Torsten Tschacher
Penang Story Lectures
The Penang Story Lecture Series aims to create
awareness about Penang’s history and heritage. The
theme this year is “Penang in Global History” focusing
on the role the people of Penang played in local,
regional and global histories. Equally fascinating is
Penang as a place, a refuge and centre for knowledge
development and intellectual movements.
The lecture series also aims to explore Penang’s
unique “place-identity” and strengthen the enabling
factors that continue to make Penang attractive to
talent. These public lectures examine a particular
theme from a multi-disciplinary perspective.
The Penang Story Initiative: Local, Regional and Global Histories
With UNESCO World Heritage Site Inscription in 2008 and the growing awareness
about cultural heritage issues, this new chapter of the Penang Story not only
continues to celebrate cultural diversity but expands to include a re-discovery of
Penang’s place in local, regional and global history. There will be a special emphasis
on Penang as a place of “conjunctures, confluences and contestations”; highlighting
the cosmopolitan society that contributed to the making of Penang’s “spirit of
place”; and all this by concentrating on Penang’s multi-ethnic community and their
contribution to local, regional and global histories.
The Penang Story is an open platform for all those with an interest in Penang
from different parts of the world to contribute towards “deepening” the story.
The project’s focus is not only on events and people but also on other intangible
heritage involving foodways, economic activities, values and beliefs, education and
all other aspects related to George Town’s “Outstanding Universal Values”.
The Penang Story will build a greater sense of solidarity amongst locals particularly
stakeholders in George Town. It will also deepen the public’s understanding of
Penang’s role as a place attractive to talent and a home where ideas germinate
and return to influence world affairs. This will boost the sense of possibility
so important to Penang’s civil society movement. Lastly, we hope that Penang
Story will encourage communities to become proud of their own heritage whilst
engendering great respect for the traditions and history of other communities.
Ultimately, all communities will become aware of having contributed to Penang’s
development and progress.
Dato’ Anwar Fazal
Penang Story
About the Speaker
is Lecturer for Tamil Language
and Culture at the Centre
for Modern Indian Studies,
Germany. He holds degrees
from the National University
of Singapore and the University
of Cologne, Germany. His
research focuses on the history,
literature and society of Tamilspeaking Muslim communities
and their ties with Southeast
Asia. He is currently engaged
in completing a manuscript
on the engagements of Tamil
Muslims with the public sphere
in colonial Singapore.
Dato’ Dr. K. Anbalakan is a senior
lecturer in History at the School of
Humanities, University of Science
Malaysia, Penang. He has a MA degree
in Indian Political and Constitutional
History and a PhD in Political Science.
His research areas include: Indian
nationalism; Social, political and
economic history of Malaysia; Identity
construction among Malaysian Indians,
and Ethnic studies.
Some of his published works are: Pelopor
Persuratkhabaran India di Malaysia:
Pemikiran dan Wawasan (2011), Tamadun
India: Sejarah, Falsafah, Sumbangan dan
Pengaruh (2009), Identiti India di Malaysia,
2008, Socio-economic Self-help Among
Indians in Malaysia (2008), The New Economic Policy and Further Marginalisation
of the Indians (2005), The Role of Indians in the Malaysian Constitutional Struggle,
1946-1948: A Reassessment (1999), Literacy in Mother-Tongue for the Linguistic
Minorities: The Case of the Indians in Malaysia (1996), Politik Pemisahan dan
Pembentukan Pakistan (1994).
He was awarded the DJN in 2009 and DSPN, that carries the title Dato’, in 2011
by the Penang State government.
The final decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a substantial expansion of
vernacular publishing and literary production in Penang and elsewhere in the Straits
Settlements. Tamil publishing was no exception to this: Tamil printing presses not
only published poetry composed by Penang-based authors, they also issued the
first Tamil newspapers on the island, widening the scope of public participation for
Indians in the Straits Settlements.
But Penang-based publishing remained no isolated enterprise confined to a corner
of the Indian Ocean. Both the producers and consumers of Tamil newspapers
in Penang engaged with the wider networks of Tamil publishing in India, Ceylon,
and other parts of Southeast Asia through correspondence and news-coverage. A
substantial number of the early authors, editors, printers, and readers in Penang’s
Tamil media revolution were Muslims, a fact that shaped the contents of the
Tamil presses’ output as much as it impacted the wider networks of information
the Penang Tamil press participated in. This lecture will outline the rise of Tamil
publishing in Penang and aims to demonstrate the important role played by Tamil
publishing in Penang and the Straits Settlements in shaping Muslim concerns and
publics across the Bay of Bengal.
Introduction by Moderator
Public Lecture
Q &A
End 9
by Torsten Tschacher
“They have gained renown as innumerable scholars and authors, standing in the
tradition of those desirous of education and suitable knowledge. Even though
they pay much attention to the Arabic language, they have taken many efforts
in creating and promoting books also in the Tamil language”. With these words,
the Penang-based Tamil bi-monthly Hindu Nasen (‘The Hindu Friend’) praised
the Indian Muslim community in February 1888. The editor of Hindu Nasen knew
what he was writing about: while his was already the ninth Tamil newspaper
founded in the Straits Settlements, it was in all likelihood the first that was not
run by a Muslim. From the late nineteenth century onwards, printing presses
in Penang and Singapore had begun to produce Tamil-language publications –
newspapers, literature, and schoolbooks – that serviced the steadily growing
numbers of Tamil-speakers in the Straits Settlements. Yet from the beginnings
in the 1870s onwards until the First World War, the majority of these printing-
presses were run by Muslims, Muslims formed a
sizeable proportion of the audiences, and topics of
particular interest to Muslims formed the staple of
poems as much as of newspaper articles.
The importance of Muslims in the rise of Tamil
publishing in the Straits Settlements in general
and Penang in particular was rather unusual in the
Tamil-speaking world. Muslims had for centuries
participated in Tamil letters and had created a
substantial religious literature in the language, but
in South India and Sri Lanka, it had been mostly
Hindus and Christians who had adopted the new
technology of printing and set up printing presses.
In the Straits Settlements, on the other hand, South
Indian Muslims had some decisive advantages as far
as printing was concerned. Firstly, at least during
the better part of the nineteenth century, Muslims
formed a sizeable proportion (and for a long
period even the majority) of the Indian population
in the Straits Settlements. Secondly, their close
connections to their Malay coreligionists allowed
them to tap simultaneously into the Malay- and the
Tamil-language markets for print-products. That
made it possible for them to support their Tamil
publishing ventures, which represented a certain
amount of risk due to the constrained market, by
gains from the larger and more stable market for
Malay-language print products. Thirdly, Indians had
had a longer and more thoroughgoing exposure
to newspapers. In the late nineteenth century,
the number of Tamil newspapers seems to have
been far larger than that of Malay or even Chinese
In Penang, an auspicious coincidence aided the
development of Tamil publishing in the city. This was
the presence of the most important Muslim poet
in Tamil of his times, V. Ghulam Kadir Navalar of
Nagore (1833-1908), in Penang in the 1880s. Navalar
in fact founded the first Tamil newspaper of Penang,
Vidya Vicharini, of which, unfortunately, no copies
seem to remain, and he taught and guided a new
generation of Muslim poets in Tamil who contributed
with their works to Tamil publishing in Penang in
the decades to come. He also maintained contact
with the island, and wrote poetic prefaces to the
works of other poets published in Penang until a few
years before his death. His sojourn in Penang greatly
helped to place the island on the map of Tamil
letters even after he had returned to India.
Religious poetry was one of the main products
of the early Tamil printing presses in Penang as
elsewhere in the Straits Settlements. Collections of
hymns addressed to God, the Prophet Muhammad,
and various Walis formed the bulk of literary
production. While these hymns remained highly
traditional in form, they at times addressed rather
unusual subjects. The best example of such poetry
is Kosha Marican’s Penang Orchavam Thiru Alangara
Sinthoo of 1895. In more than seven hundred lines,
Kosha Marican describes the route, participants,
and sights of the annual procession conducted by
the Nagore Dargah in Penang. The decorations of the Dargah, the cosmopolitan
crowd jostling along the route, and the most important Indian Muslim merchants
of his time, all find a place in Kosha Marican’s poem. But not only Tamil
literature in traditional forms was produced in Penang at that time. S.P.S.K.
Kader Sahib’s Hasia Mansari (‘Humorous Collection’) was a collection of short
amusing stories, essentially a small anthology of jokes, a novelty in the world of
nineteenth-century Tamil letters.
Of greater importance for historians, though, are the Tamil newspapers edited
by Indian Muslims in Penang. While little remains of the earliest of these
newspapers, such as Vidya Vicharini, the situation changes in 1887, as according
to the new Book Registration Ordinance, newspapers had to be registered and
copies submitted to the colonial government. By 1914, Penang had become the
first place in British Malaya where a Tamil daily newspaper could operate with a
certain amount of security. More than the actual information about events and
persons that can be gleaned from these newspapers, they are interesting as they
allow us to understand the concerns and matters of contention among Indian
Muslims in Penang, as well as the audiences that the newspapers were reaching.
Readers contested each other’s (and the newspaper’s) views in letters to the
editor, forming an incipient public sphere of Tamil readers on the island.
Early Tamil newspapers from Penang are not only of importance for the history
of Penang alone. Rather, from the very beginning, Indian Muslims in Penang
and their newspapers formed part of a larger network of Tamil journals.
Correspondents from Penang supplied Tamil newspapers in Sri Lanka and
India with information and comments on events Southeast Asia, such as the
Dutch invasion of Aceh, while they simultaneously drew on South Asian Tamil
newspapers for information on events in India and the Middle East. Newspapers
across the Indian Ocean could also serve as a platform for readers to voice
criticism of their local Penang newspapers when these refused to publish their
views and letters. Penang was from the beginning part of a wider Indian Muslim
public that spanned the Bay of Bengal.
The ‘golden age’ of Indian Muslim involvement in
Tamil publishing came to an end with the First
World War. Not only did owners of printing presses
face paper shortage due to the war, the colonial
government had become particularly suspicious of
the support Indian Muslims in Penang had extended
to the Ottoman Empire in the years before the
war, and the government now closely monitored
the products of Penang’s Tamil printing presses.
Nowadays, the pioneering role of Indian Muslims in
the establishment of Tamil publishing in Penang has
largely been forgotten. Yet the literature and journals
they produced still speak from the dust of the
archives, telling their own part of the Penang Story
to anyone willing to listen.
Joint Organisers
THINK CITY SDN BHD (TCSB) is a subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the
investment arm of the Malaysian government, and an urban regeneration agency
operating in the historic city of George Town. It manages the George Town Grants
Programme (GTGP), which is a public grants programme designed to protect and
preserve George Town’s Outstanding Universal Values. These include the city’s
multi-ethnic and multi-cultural living heritage, architectural legacy and intangible
heritage as a historic port city in the Straits of Malacca. Think City’s involvement
in this project provides focus on the cultural mapping process (documentation
and outreach activities involving local histories and heritage) and the intangible
heritage of the city.
THE PENANG HERITAGE TRUST (PHT) is one of Malaysia’s most successful nongovernmental organizations championing the heritage conservation with special
emphasis on Penang and George Town. The PHT played a pivotal role in the
nomination of George Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also a key
partner in the 2001/02 Penang Story Project bringing together local communities
through a celebration of cultural diversity.
Knowledge Partners
area manager of the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. It provides
consultation and public awareness regarding the World Heritage Site. GTWHI
also provides advice to the State and Local governments regarding heritage
conservation issues and assists private property owners about best practices in
UNIVERSITI SAINS MALAYSIA (USM) is Malaysia’s Apex University with wideranging research programmes. USM initiated several projects directly related to
heritage conservation work in Penang and elsewhere.
Joint Organisers