Penang’s Kampung Siam a Malaysian melting pot

A-      A+

GEORGE TOWN — The young in the family of patriarch Noo Wan @ Wandee Aroonratana, 92, at Kampung Siam in Pulau Tikus here truly represent assimilation in the extreme.

None of his 20 grandchildren and 30 great grandchildren speak Thai, preferring Malay for daily communication, while his nine children speak a smattering of Thai.

Some in his family also speak Hokkien due to intermarriage with local Chinese.

A daughter had married a Malay, four sons and two daughters had married Chinese, and another two had married Thais.

Noo Wan, also known as Pa’Wandee to local Malays, the fifth generation of Thais who settled here in the early 1800s, feels this is part of the process of Malaysianisation.

“They have become truly Malaysian by blending in with Malay culture besides using the language,” the retired menora dance exponent said.

He said he also spoke Malay more often than Thai as he dealt with the Malay and Chinese communities.

Noo Wan said his father, Nai Chandee Arronaratana, who hailed from Songkhla province in southern Thailand, migrated to Penang in 1914.

“He walked all the way from his village to Alor Star and travelled here by bus to join a thriving Thai community already in existence here,” he said.

He said the community had been living in Kampung Siam adjacent to Wat Chaiya Mangalaram in Jalan Burma for more than two centuries.

In 1845 the British gave the land on which the village is located to the community to be used in perpetuity.

“They gave the piece of land to the Thai community to live on. We have the documents to prove this,” he said.

Noo Wan said he learnt menora, a dance drama of south Thailand origin, from his father, who was a master dancer.

He said the dance was still popular in Perlis, Kedah, Penang and Kelantan.

“It is perhaps the only visible form of Thai culture here besides Thai temples in the northern states,” he said.

Noo Wan, who was awarded the “Living Heritage” title by the state government under former chief minister Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon in 2007, said Penang was a good example of a melting pot of races.

On Thailand, he said he had never visited the country and did not know anyone there.

“I consider myself Malaysian in every way. This is where I was born and where I will die,” he added.