Suukee Nang: What it Means to be Hainanese


Beyond its mouth-watering cuisine, Hainanese identity is marked by its unique history and language.

Several factors spurred the Hainanese to pack their bags and make their way to fertile Malaya in the nineteenth and twentieth century. These included widespread poverty, war, the Qing government’s rescindment of its ban on Chinese leaving the empire, the Japanese invasion, and the rubber and tin boom in Malaya.

But their late arrival meant that the Hainanese were pushed into less-than-desirable occupations: lucrative trades and businesses had already been monopolised by the other Chinese groups. Many had to rely on their skills as farmers and fishermen to survive. In Kemaman, Terengganu, the Hainanese toiled on pepper farms while in Penang many found employment in the fishery business and as labourers and domestic help for European and wealthy Straits Chinese families.

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