The Tongkang – Symbol of the Entrepot Age


Once a part of Penang’s lively waterfront scene, tongkangs have faded into obscurity.

It was the 1920s. Penang Harbour, stretching from Swettenham Pier to Pengkalan Weld, bustled endlessly. Bullock carts and handcarts transported goods of all kinds to the wharf while labourers and handlers moved bags and sacks against a backdrop of large ships waiting in the sea roads for their load. Between these ships and the wharf small lighters plied back and forth.

These were the tongkangs. A “tongkang” was simply a lighter used for transporting cargo from the wharf to ships that were too large to dock at the quays. They were small and easily manoeuvred across difficult stretches such as muddy swamps and shallow rivers.

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