ONCE AN ICONIC fishing centre and port, Penang's clan jetties are struggling to reinvent themselves. In the 19th century, coolies and boat operators fuelled Penang's booming maritime trade and thousands roamed the jetties' wooden planks every day, either to fish or transport goods or people.
These days, few people regularly step onto those wooden planks. Changes in customs laws have prevented goods from being brought into or out of the jetties. Other than a few fishing cages and prawn farms, the clan jetty fishing industry is as good as dead.
No longer able to depend on fisheries or trade, a reinvention is crucial to the clan jetties' survival. With George Town being placed on the Unesco World Heritage Site list, it is no surprise that the people would turn to tourism. Boats once used for fishing now ferry tourists around. Peranakan singers and opera performers occasionally perform for guests arriving on boats. One house in the Chew Jetty serves as a homestay guesthouse. Coffee shops and hawker stalls have been set up along the main road.
Are these enough to revitalise the clan jetties? That remains to be seen, but in the meantime, life there goes on ...
Penang's clan jetties are a cluster of villages built on the foreshore waterfront at the North-East District of Penang Island, along Weld Quay. Six main clans — the Lim, Tan, Chew, Lee, Yeoh and Mixed Clans — reside there, totalling about 800 to 1,000 people living in about 200 households.
The Chew Jetty is the largest and oldest, with 72 households. The others have about 20 to 30 households each.