The Teochew Store Blog / Siam
2019 is officially the bicentennial year of Singapore. In part two of "The First Teochews in Singapore", we look into the evidences proving a Teochew oral tradition identifying a group of Chinese settled in Singapore before British establishment, as Teochew sojourners from Siam (Thailand), and how an old map of Singapore rediscovered in Scotland pinpoints where they lived by the Singapore River.
2019 is officially the bicentennial year of Singapore, a former British colony and today one of Asia's wealthiest cities.
The island-state is also home to the second largest Teochew overseas diaspora, after Thailand, and up till the mid-20th century a critical node on a trading and migratory network that connected the principal Teochew port of Swatow with key trading centres such as Hong Kong, Saigon and Bangkok. Teochews from Singapore were responsible for the early economic development of Johor, Malaysia's southernmost state whose capital Johor Bahru was once known as "Little Swatow".
What has long been forgotten is that more than half a century ago, the Teochews in Singapore held to an oral tradition claiming that their forerunners were settled in Singapore before Sir Stamford Raffles, the Englishman hailed as Singapore's modern founder, even arrived. If true, this assertion will demand a change in the written history of Singapore.
Starting from this week, The Teochew Store will publish in three parts an in-depth research that sheds light into what this oral tradition says and seeks to verify its authenticity and accuracy.
Thailand, also known in the past as Siam, was the first stop of the Teochew during a series of migratory waves from the 18th to 20th century. Bangkok today has by far the largest Teochew community anywhere outside China.
Here we have a list of 181 Teochew loanwords found in the Thai language.
By anecdotal accounts Teochew women are highly desired in China as ideal marriage partners. They are reputed for being gentle in character, imbued with strong family values and capable in managing the household. This is statistically supported by divorce rate of around 2 percent in Swatow in recent years, which is lower than most parts of the country and certainly a mere fraction of figures in Western societies. But what shapes the fine Teochew woman? Insights into letters written over a half a century ago by the Teochew husbands working abroad to home are instructive.
Theng Hai (variant: Tenghai) (澄海, in Mandarin: Chenghai), was one of historical Teochew prefecture's eight counties. Occupying the Hang-kang (韓江) river delta, it was formed from areas carved out of Hai Yor (now Teo Ann) and Gek Yor in 1563. Theng Hai is today administered as a district of the Swatow (汕頭, Shantou) prefectural-level city.
Since The Teochew Store was formed, we have received numerous requests for help from fellow Gaginangs to locate their ancestral village. Depending on the leads provided, we were able to assist many, but for others it is more difficult because some places have been renamed or now fall behind a different boundary line, other communities are unlisted on maps or the internet, or even when a place is found, there remains uncertainty if its residents have the same surname.
Fortunately the Shantou University (STU) Library has built a khieu-phue database (僑批數據庫) allowing keyword search for meta-data of some 70,000 pieces of khieu-phue (or "migrants letters", which were correspondences sent together with money remittances by Teochews living in Southeast Asia to their homes in Teochew), receipts and return letters. The site URL is http://app.lib.stu.edu.cn/qiaopi/index.aspx.
Teochew Documentary: Letters of A Family On Two Shores - Two-Part Documentary on the Teochew Letters
"... the true value of the Teochew Letters can only be unlocked by the people they are addressed to. Individually, every set of letters tell the stories and struggles of a family in a moment of history. But put together, all of them express the purpose and meaning of life to every common man - to seek the betterment of life for the ones who love us, and to pass this dream to the children after us."