Penang is a vibrant Malaysian Island off the north-western coast of the peninsula. There is so much history to Penang, which is still now physically visible with the many colonial buildings and temples still standing in Georgetown, its capital city. Penang’s glorious past is still with us today, and much of it is showcased at the Penang State Museum.
Penang was known in earlier times as “Pulau Ka Satu”, which means quite literally “only one island” in Malay. According to legends, the name was given by a certain traveling merchant named Ragam. He used to trade between Linggi and Kedah, and Penang was the only island he saw along that route. “Pulau Ka Satu” stuck until the 18th century when the British came and named the island “Penang”.
Another important moniker in history was “Tanjong”. In much earlier times, the locals of Penang were called “Tanjong Penaga” referring to a northeastern cape (today, Fort Cornwallis) where the penaga plant grew in abundance. The residents were called “Tanjong Penaga” or just “Tanjong” for short. Today, they are called “Penangites”, although this term is still just slang. Penangites are very friendly and proud of their culture. They come from Chinese, Malay and Indian descent, which brought about colorful cultures and traditions. They speak Bahasa Malaysia as the national language, although English and Hokkien are widely spoken. There is a strong Chinese influence in Penang, the strongest in all of Malaysia.
Penang is a melting pot of several Eastern and Western cultures, having been colonized by the British, and this is most apparent in Georgetown. Penang State Museum is located in Georgetown, on Farquhar Street. The museum showcases the rich history of the capital city that has received traders from a number of Malaysia’s neighboring countries through the centuries. Some of the traders decided to stay in this beautiful island, and so their descendants are now Penangites. One such trader was an Arab merchant named Syed Hussein Al-Aldid from Acheh. He was a prominent person during his time and so a mosque, the Acheh Street Malay Mosque, was named after him.
Inside Penang State Museum, guests are transported back in time as those early Malay, Chinese and Indian settlers come alive through the many historical items on display. The museum’s ground floor highlights their cultures, customs and early forms of livelihood.
The upper floor, on the other hand, focuses on historic places such as Penang Harbor, UNESCO’s Heritage Zone, and Penang museum itself. On exhibit are old photographs, historical relics, maps, charts, and paintings of early Penang, transporting guests to bygone years when the island was just beginning to develop as a major Malaysian state. The old building where the museum is located is itself a piece of important history. It was built in 1821, originally a school called Penang Free School. Also on display are old photos and articles on the Penang Riot and Japanese Occupation, as well as a statue of a statue of Francis Light, founder of the British colony in Penang, and his will written in Old English.
Penang State Museum is open daily except on Fridays, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission fee is RM1. The museum is not difficult to find. Around it are several hotels if one wishes to stay among the many century-old buildings of Georgetown.