Possibly Penang’s first clan association
Published/Last edited or updated: 4th October, 2017
The Tans are regarded as one of Penang’s “big five” Hokkien clans, and although there are no records confirming the fact, the general consensus is that they may have formed the first clan association in Penang.
After moving premises a couple of times in the early- to mid-19th century, they have stayed put in the Eng Chuan Tan Kongsi near Lebuh Pantai (Beach Street) since 1878, which has had a couple of facelifts in the meantime, most recently in 1992.
The single storey building is not as impressive as their Hokkien brethren, the Khoo’s or the Cheah’s Kongsi, but if you pass by it’s certainly worth sticking your nose in, especially if your surname is Tan (one of the more common Chinese surnames) as you’ll be treated as part of the family.
Set in its own cul-de-sac, the temple sits sentinel-like facing the short laneway from Lebuh Pantai (Beach Street), the road then splitting around it and by all accounts, many Tan families still live in the surrounding houses. The modern-looking gateway was added in the early 1950s, but the curved roofline and cut ceramic work echo the temple itself for a cohesive look.
Beyond the gate, a red painted forecourt contrasts with the grey granite facade of the temple and twisting dragons both on the rooftop and curling around the font pillars protect the Kongsi from the unseen. The paintings of the door guardians seem a little more crude than in some other temples about town, but at the same time more modern with a heavy use of black outline, almost tattoo-like, yet the ornate gold filigree altar is as impressive as any.
The Tan’s patron deities sit red-faced and golden cloaked at the main altar, and in the ancestral hall behind, another altar houses the family tablets. Interestingly, as with the Khoo Kongsi, the Tan Kongsi displays wooden plaques highlighting the prowess and achievements of fellow Tans, several who have joined Malaysia’s parliament it seems.
Well displayed information boards offer a brief history of the clan and (copies of) land deeds and historical photographs are of interest. Despite the formal architecture, the feeling in this temple was very much as its function—a local community hall (with sacred spaces at the altars) and when we stopped by members were lazing about updating their social media and kids were running around.
The remainder of “big five” Hokkien Kongsi are the impressive Khoo and Cheah Kongsi, the (also impressive, but closed for renovation in July 2017) Yeoh Kongsi, and (not open to the public, except Chinese New Year) the Kew Leong Tong Lim Kongsi of the Lim clan.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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