Get to know the Tan Kongsi

MENTION the oldest clan house in Penang, and most Penangites would probably say the Eng Chuan Tong Tan Kongsi (ECTTK).

Founded as early as 1810 by a Tan family from the Fujian province of Zhangzhou in China, the ECTTK, commonly known as Tan Kongsi among locals, was originally known as the Tan Seng Ong Kongsi.

ECTTK vice-president Tan Lye Hock said the Tan clan acquired its first common property at 13, China Street before moving to the present building at the Seh Tan Court in Beach Street.

“It all started when there was trouble in Southern China, affecting the Zhangzhou and Xiamen provinces. This led the then Emperor of the Tang dynasty to call for a General Tan Seng Ong to end the war.

“Our forefathers in troubled Zhangzhou and Xiamen, who were very poor, decided to move to places like Penang and Malacca, Indonesia and Thailand upon learning of better opportunities in these foreign land,” he said.

Lye Hock said they could not return to China after the Opium War started and managed to make a life for themselves in their adopted countries.

“A ‘clan organisation’ was subsequently formed which led to the establishment of the Hokkien Kongsi with the Tan, Lim, Khoo, Cheah and Yeoh.

“The organisation was formed so that those with these surnames could find help and support while in a foreign land,” he said.

Lye Hock added that the present architectural structure of the ECTTK was completed in 1878, making it 134 years old this year.

“The organisation still recognises common blood ties to demonstrate the internal cohesion of the Tan clansmen besides showcasing the cultural symbolism of clan unity.

“It does not matter which part of the province one comes from, every Tan is treated like family,” he said.

The clan house now serves as an organisation for social activities and ancestral temple for remembrance and prayers.

Inside there are gold plates on parts of the wall with Chinese verses which tell of the Tan clan. There are also plaques of famous Tan personalities hung high near the ancestral tablets.

ECTTK president Tan Kok Chye said among the famous personalities from the clan was Tun Tan Siew Sin, former Finance Minister, who was also the son of Tun Tan Cheng Lock, the man who helped fought for the country’s independence.

Tan Kim Soon, 73, who has been managing the clan house for more than 40 years, said funds were being allocated from time to time to maintain the temple.

“Families with the Tan surname pay their respects on major occasions such as the eve of Chinese New Year, Qing Ming and Winter Solstice.”

Lye Hock also said the Board of Trustees was proud that the Tan Kongsi had been included as one of the heritage sites in this year’s Starwalk route.

“This would be a good opportunity for the public, especially tourists and the younger generation, to get to know the clan house’s history.”

General manager Tan Leong Chuan, 53, and his homemaker wife Gladys Yap, 51, were among those spotted paying their respects at the temple.

Leong Chuan said it has been his family’s tradition to offer prayers to their ancestors every year.

Yap added it was important to ensure that the tradition of paying respect to their ancestors was not forgotten by the future generation.

“We try to bring along our children whenever we can to the clan house temple on major occasions so they know how important it is to remember their ancestors.

“It is nice to know that this building is not forgotten. We feel extremely proud,” she said, adding that they were paying respects to Leong Chuan’s grandfather in conjunction with the anniversary of his passing.

The Tan Kongsi is one of the heritage sites covered in the new 6km route for non-competition Starwalkers on Sept 17.

The other sites include Sia Boey Market, Chew/Lee Jetties, Wisma Yeap Chor Ee, Customs Building (formerly Malayan Railway Building), Logan Heritage, The Whiteaways Arcade, Pinang Peranakan Mansion and Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh.

Penang Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas will flag off the walk at Birch House, Penang Times Square, at 6.30am on Sept 17, a replacement public holiday for Malaysia Day that falls on Sunday.

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