Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi (GPS: 5.4149, 100.33807) 世德堂謝公司, located at Armenian Street, Penang, is one of the oldest and most charming clan temples tucked away in a hidden recess of George Town. (Since this page was originally written back in 2005, the kongsi had since opened a frontage to Beach Street, so it is no longer as hidden as it once was.)
The Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi is the ancestral temple of Sek Tong Seah @ Sek Tong Cheah Si Seh Tek Tong @ Cheah Si Hock Haw Kong Kongsi is one of the less known but no less significant member of the Armenian Street Heritage Enclave. To reach it, pass through an ornate archway, through a narrow passageway, and you will find the ancestral temple located in a pleasant courtyard facing the east.
Here I am with Mr Peter S.H. Cheah, the president of Cheah Kongsi (4 December, 2015)
History of Cheah Kongsi
Although there is no record to show what year the Cheah Kongsi was founded, based on the title deeds, it can be deduced that the kongsi was founded somewhere before the year 1820, making it the oldest of the five major Hokkien clan associations in Penang, the others being the Khoo, Yeoh, Lim and Tan clan associations. The founder is attributed to be one Cheah Yam. Between then and 1858, the association acquired several pieces of land. The one on which the clan temple now stands was acquired in 1858 at Armenian Street. It took 15 years to build.
Within the halls of the Cheah Kongsi temple are the two main deities of the Cheahs. They were in fact extinguished generals who were bestowed the title of "Marquis" or "Hock Haw".
Main entrance of Sek Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi (4 December, 2015)
Origin of the Cheah Clan in Penang
It was tough life for the inhabitants of the coastal regions of China during the turbulent years between the tail end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and during the early years of Qing (1644-1911). Countless mainlanders from the coastal provinces of Guangdong (Kwangtung) and Fujian (Hokkien) left their homeland in search of better lives elsewhere. For many, the destination is the Nanyang (Southern Seas), places like Siam, Sumatra and of course, Malaya.
When the Cheahs first arrived in Penang, they settled in the Bagan Dalam area of Butterworth. From there, they gradually shifted across the channel to make their home in George Town, where there was better business opportunities. To consolidate their resources and look into the welfare of their fellow clansmen, they established the Cheah Kongsi, and named it after their ancestral village of Sek Tong Seah, which is located in the Hai Teng District of Zhang Zhou prefecture of Fujian Provinde, in the present designated Development Zone of Hai Chang, opposite Xiamen.
The front façade of Cheah Kongsi Ancestral Temple (11 February, 2013)
As with the other clan associations, the Cheah Kongsi provided accommodation as well as financial aid to the new arrivals of the Cheah clan until they found employment and can then contribute to the guild. Along with that are other objectives of the association, including the worship of their patron saint, Hock Haw Kong, the worship of their ancestors, the provision of educational aid to the children of clan members, and to provide subsistence allowance to widows of Cheah clansmen.
Cheah Kongsi Restoration
Cheah Kongsi was closed to the public from 2013 to end of 2015 for a complete restoration of the ancestral temple and its auxiliary buildings.
Cheah Kongsi, clan association and temple (11 February, 2013)
Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi Gate (11 February, 2013)
Main Prayer Hall of Cheah Kongsi Ancestral Temple
The main prayer hall of Cheah Kongsi Ancestral Temple is on the upper floor. As is the tradition, the deities are arranged into three shrines. The middle shrine holds the principal deities of Cheah Kongsi, namely Khong Hui Seng Ong. The left shrine houses the Tua Pek Kong and Tai Sai Yeah while the right shrine Hock Haw Kong. Most of these deities are deified forms of historical personalities, particularly military generals of the Cheah clan from the Jin and Tang dynasties.
Entrance to the main prayer hall of Cheah Kongsi (4 February, 2006)
Updates on Cheah Kongsi
11 May, 2016: Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi restoration works have been nominated to represent the Asia Pacific category for the 2016-2017 International Property Awards, which will be held in London on 12 December, 2016. This is based on it having won the 5-Star Public Service Architecture for the Asia Pacific Region at the Asia Pacific Property Award in April, 2016.
9 December, 2015: The Cheah Kongsi Ancestral Temple opens to the public after close to three years of restoration. At the same time, Cheah Kongsi also opens its interpretation centre to provide the public insights into the history of the Cheah clan and its relationship with Penang.
10 February, 2015: The Star reports the Cheah Kongsi premises and the properties contained therein are under threat of seizure after a developer obtain a writ on the clan association after it failed to comply with a High Court order of 30 Sept 2014. The writ was applied for on 29 Jan 2015, and issued by the court on 6 Feb 2015. According to The Star, the developer Hun Meng Development, had sued the chairman of Cheah Kongsi, Cheah Swee Huat, and the association's secretary Cheah Sin Choon, for breach of contract in respect a joint venture agreement.
2012-2013: Cheah Kongsi embarked on a beautification of its compound with the clearing away of shophouses facing Beach Street. This has enabled it to build a new front wall and gate, allowing an uninterrupted view of the clan temple from Beach Street. The beautification project was completed in time for the 2013 Chinese New Year celebrations, culminating with the Chinese Heritage Open House on 16 February, 2013. According to Cheah Kongsi, this is just one of several major restoration works that have been done since as early as 1873.
Take the Rapid Penang Bus Nos. 10, 103, 301, 302, 308, 401 or U502 to Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, walk down the road to the junction of Lebuh Armenian, then turn left. Cheah Kongsi is on the left side of Lebuh Armenian, about 60 meters from the junction.
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