Insight into the Filipino Community in Penang

A Summary by Catherine Lee Sue Si

The Filipino Community in Penang
By 1800, the population of the immigrant society in Penang numbered over 10,000, only about 300 of whom were Europeans. The 1835 census recorded 40,207 inhabitants, with 16,435 Malays, 8751 Chinese, 9,208 Indians and only 790 Europeans. Of the 3,000 immigrants of other races were the Filipinos, who had come here not for social or trading purposes, but for purely economic ones. Most of them were armed with only their musical skills, and their adventurous spirit.

Settlement areas
Mostly centered around the churches as they were nearly all Roman Catholics. Highly populated areas were Penang Road, Agryl Road, Farquhar Street, around the Assumption Cathedral, Transfer Road.

Originally married among themselves; intermarriages were more common, especially among the Chinese and Eurasian races.

Like the majority of immigrants, the poor did not attend school. It was only from the second generation these Filipino immigrants were sent to school. Popular schools at that time were St. Xavier’s Institution and Convent Light Street. Another school that had many immigrant Filipinos was St. George’s Girl’s School.

Simple and unelaborated, except for the formal dress which has puffed sleeves. Those at home dressed quite similar to the Chinese nyonya or Malay apparel i.e. a sarong plus a simple blouse-sort of “baju pendek”.

The Filipinos brought with them their cuisine from home:
Adabo : chicken or pork-based. Marinated in black sauce, vinegar and garlic and stir-fried.
Sinigang : a fish soup, non-spicy. Garnished with tomatoes, onions and vegetables.
Totar : from the Spanish “tortilla”. Egg fried with lean meat, omelet style. Cooked on banana leaves for the fragrance.
Balenciana : a sort of chicken rice with red colouring.

Spoke Tagalog, especially the older generation. This was mainly due to intermarrying among the races; few Filipinos actually used the language as time went on. Many now speak only English, or other acquired dialects.

The elder families were buried at the Western Road Cemetery.