Pulau Jerejak: Would you buy a home on a small island with over 5,000 graves?


Would you buy a home on this island? These graves are on the north-western side of Pulau Jerejak.

According to a historian, there are at least 5,332 graves, most of them from the 7,500 leprosy patients who lived at one time or another on Pulau Jerejak. At least 3,691 of these graves are near the site of the old leprosy hospital on the eastern side of the island.

This hospital was funded largely by the local Chinese community. Frederick Weld, the then Governor of the Straits Settlements observed, “The building is a fine one with a central hall, and long tiled corridors and wards stretching out on either side. It is very cool and well arranged. Rows of coconut trees line the beach, and the view from it is most beautiful.”

From historical records, we know…”A leper is also engaged to make coffins, the materials being supplied by the Government, and the dead are buried at the back of the Hospital some 200 yards away behind a jungle…”

Many of these people affected by leprosy were compelled to live on the island, where they were hidden and cut off from the rest of society, the hospital facing the mainland rather than the island. Local kampung residents were then removed from the island so that they would not be able to help the patients to escape.

The leprosy hospital was later demolished to make way for the present shipyard on the eastern side of the island. I am not sure if this shipyard, built on or near the graves of a few thousand patients, is actually thriving. We know for sure that the Tropical Island Resort, on the western coast, flopped big-time, bleeding red ink and debt.

READ MORE:  1990s heritage inventory listed over 100 buildings from all over Penang

What is going to happen to the graves still untouched? The proposed round-island cycle path, for one things, will run close to some of these grave sites.

Do you know that in addition to the people affected by leprosy, a further half a million migrants to Penang – maybe your ancestors – had to pass through Pulau Jerejak, where they would spend six days in quarantine to detect diseases such as smallpox and cholera. [In the 1950s, only ‘third class’ and open deck passengers on the SS Rajula arriving from India had to spend time in quarantine – not the first or second class passengers. Discrimination!]

To link the island to the mainland, the developers are now planning a four-lane bridge. At first, they said the island would be car-free… but once the bridge is built, you can guess what could happen. Maybe electric cars or hybrid cars or what-have-you might make an appearance. And then there would be even more development pressure on the island.

Let’s see how close the proposed 1,200 homes and hotels will be to those graves from our hidden past.

These are no ordinary graves. As one concerned Penangite observed, “These were graves of the socially outcast, the ill, the damned, the misfits and the criminal. Locals are reconciled to death but not to a hard death.”

Even if the project is completed, how many people would actually want to live in an island that has never been totally exorcised from the misery, pain and grief of its former inhabitants – people affected by leprosy wrenched from society, isolated tuberculosis patients, locked up political detainees and other prisoners, many of whom were detained without trial.

READ MORE:  Chilling account of massacre in Pulau Jerejak during Japanese Occupation

If you know of anyone who lived or was quarantined or locked up on the island, please share your story with us below.

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  1. From Al Jazeera:
    Out of Sight: Malaysia’s Orang Asli

    Carey Island, Malaysia – In a wooden hut, elevated above the swampy ground, a shaman from Malaysia’s indigenous Mah Meri people sits cross legged in front of an altar laden with offerings of food and drink, and decorated with palm fronds folded and twisted into birds and flowers.

    As each visitor climbs the steps into the chamber and falls to their knees, the shaman dabs first their forehead and then their hands with white chalk. It is a blessing; a cleansing for the year ahead.

    Every Ancestors Day, or Hari Moyang, the Mah Meri who have lived on Carey Island on Malaysia’s west coast for generations honour the spirits of their ancestors and the island they call home in a series of ceremonies that last for a month.

    But this year’s celebration took place amid rising concern about government plans to build a 10,000-hectare port and industrial zone on the island to expand Port Klang, which lies just north of Carey Island and is the world’s 12th busiest cargo hub.

    If the plans proceed, the indigenous people will be squeezed into an ever smaller area of the low-lying island, which is just an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur.

    “This is the land of the Mah Meri,” says Kemi bin Khamis, 42, who carves the spirit statues from local hardwood. “This is our island. I don’t want to to move.”

    The Mah Meri are one of 18 ethnic groups who make up the Orang Asli; descendants of the original inhabitants of the Malay peninsular who are now thought to number about 179,000.

    Ancestral land is crucial to the Orang Asli’s way of life and the landscape central to their largely animist beliefs, but as Malaysia’s economy has expanded, and demand for land has grown, the indigenous people have lost vast swaths of their territory to plantations, logging and industrial projects.

    “The centrality of indigenous peoples’ customary lands is vital for their development and cultural survival,” Malaysia’s human rights commission, known as Suhakam, wrote in its recommendations to the government following a national enquiry into indigenous peoples’ land rights in 2013, urging official recognition of Orang Asli customary lands.

    The government has yet to implement Suhakam’s recommendations, but the pressure on Orang Asli continues to grow. According to Minority Rights Group International, less than one-fifth of the indigenous tribes’ native land has been set aside as Orang Asli areas or reserves. On Carey Island, only two of the five villages have been recognised, and they are now thought to be the ones most at risk from the port development.

    “It’s not that fair,” Kemi says softly of the official approach to Orang Asli land. “If they want to take, they will take. There’s no land title or grant.”

    The federal government agency overseeing Orang Asli affairs told Al Jazeera on Friday it was unaware of any plans to move the Mah Meri community. It added because land issues fall under state government jurisdiction, authorities there would have to pay compensation and provide a suitable area for relocation.

    The Mah Meri aren’t the only Orang Asli struggling to hold onto what is theirs. In the northeastern state of Kelantan, the forest-dwelling Temiar are fighting loggers backed by the state government in a reserve that is part of their ancestral land, setting up blockades and risking arrest to defend their territory.

    “The view is why should we give the land to the Orang Asli when it’s valuable land,” says Colin Nicholas, coordinator of the Center for Orang Asli Concerns, an NGO that works on behalf of the indigenous people. “If you have the chance, why not grab it?”

    The Orang Asli have responded with legal action, increasingly determined to assert their rights and defend their way of life. This week, a group of 188 indigenous people in Malaysia’s south won a five-year court battle over customary land taken for the Iskandar development, a project three times the size of Singapore.

    “There have been some very strong judgements saying Orang Asli do have native rights to the land, even if you’ve gazetted it as a forest reserve, a Malay reserve or even given it away to someone else,” Nicholas explained. “But it’s not being recognised by those who make the decisions.”

    It was in the early 20th century, when Malaysia was ruled by the British, that rubber was first planted on Carey Island, but the country’s rapid post-independence development has greatly increased the pressure on the Mah Meri.

    Kemi, who has five children, remembers the time when the sea and the rivers were clearer, the fish easier to catch and the crab plentiful, but agriculture and industrialisation have brought pollution, and rubbish dots the island’s beaches. Communities have to travel ever further for a decent catch, he says.

    The plantations are now owned by Sime Darby, one of the world’s largest producers of palm oil (the Mah Meri grow some oil palm plants to supplement their income), and a golf resort opened a few years ago close to Kampung Sungai Bumbun. The 810-hectare site, part of which was once indigenous community land, is now being developed into a housing estate for stressed-out city dwellers.

    The affected families agreed to just 2,000 ringgit ($450) each in compensation. The developer, meanwhile, is looking forward to a “higher than typical” profit margin for the luxury villas it aims to build.

    Plans for the port remain sketchy and the indigenous villages may yet be able to work with the state government. The port itself is a project of the federal government led by a rival political coalition, and elections are due by the middle of next year. The project’s proponents will also need to convince Sime Darby to give up its plantations.

    In front of the shaman’s hut, the dances are coming to an end. The men and women stand patiently in their costumes – made from the bark of native trees – as the scores of foreign tourists who’ve come to watch the celebrations take photos.

    “Their environment, their surroundings, this is their life,” says Rashid Esa, who manages the Mah Meri Cultural Village on the island, which is supported by the Tourism Ministry.

    “[Mah Meri] are a unique people. They are not from our time, really.”

    Next to a bamboo table laden with chocolate drinks, fruit juices, and food for the spirits, 15-year-old Sazrin anak Gali removes his mask, which has been smudged white by the shaman, and runs his hand through his hair.

    The schoolboy comes from a family steeped in Mah Meri culture and has been learning traditional dance since he was seven. Sazrin has no doubts about what will happen if the port project goes ahead.

    “I will resist,” he says, cradling the mask, with its riot of woven hair in the crook of his arm. “This is the land where I was born. Everyone will protest.

  2. you still keep old type writer kodak film camera, kerosene cooker, use match sticks and triode valve radio? they are orso heritage similar to houses but tua pek kong do not treat it as equal.

  3. Sorry, Anil (May God bless you). But this a more than a grave matter for greater public awareness:
    Missing pastor’s family wants police to scale up their investigation

    COMMENT | The family of Pastor Raymond Koh who was abducted more than two weeks ago is asking police to investigate the case under Article 364 of the Penal Code – kidnapping or abducting in order to murder – which carries a death penalty or imprisonment of up to 20 years.

    Koh’s son, Jonathan, made a second missing person report yesterday asking police to treat the matter more seriously rather than to put it under Article 365 – kidnapping or abducting with intent to cause that person to be secretly and wrongfully confined – which carries a jail term of only up to seven years.

    The family has said that it was obvious the abduction was not for ransom as none was demanded thus far. The family has also initially offered a reward of RM10,000 and later friends topped it to RM100,000 yet there were no takers.

    “Where is Raymond Koh? Do Malaysian government officials have the answers?” asked correspondent Gary Lane in his report in the US-based Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) four days ago.

    “Kidnapped in broad daylight on February 13th, the Malaysian pastor’s family has still heard no word from his abductors. They believe police investigators are dragging their feet,” said Lane who has previously met Koh.

    Those close to Koh’s wife, Susanna, confided that police are more interested in finding out who Koh’s followers were and whether they were involved in “Christianisation”, a code word for proselytisation among Muslims.

    If this is true, police are obviously either missing the forest for the trees or looking the other way. Likewise, Islamic agencies like Jais and Jakim and even mainstream media are invariably pursuing the proselytisation angle.

    But this cannot justify his abduction which was professionally executed in under 40 seconds, according to those who have seen the CCTV recordings…

    • The pastor had been overzealous in converting others so no surprised being abducted (not kidnapped per polis) so likely he may be programmed to understand other faiths upon release? We wish him early release safely.

    • Quoted from Malaysiakini:
      ‘I hope Pastor Koh is safe’

      Looking at different angles

      On further discussion with Koh’s son and viewing the closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera footage first-hand, I am convinced that the abduction was professionally executed, well-synchronised and efficient.

      It cannot be the work of some rabble-rousers or terrorists. Unless the operatives are well-rehearsed in their role, the job could not have been done in just 42 seconds.

      What came across as very obvious to me, as I pointed out to Koh’s son, is that the ‘operatives’ in the abduction case did not come in different shapes and sizes.

      They appeared to be slim and fit for the job, suggesting that they could have been specially selected for the job. The colours of the vehicles also suggest that there is uniformity.

      The SUVs are black and the Proton cars are light-coloured, another hint that they belong to some well-funded organisation. If any individual were to own this fleet of vehicles, it would have cost at least half a million ringgit, with the amount of training and rehearsal involved.

      The masked men involved in the operation would have to be engaged and properly trained in order to carry out the job with great precision. The degree of sophistication of the abductors is hard to dispute.

      Modus operandi

      The incident involved three black (dark-coloured) SUVs. One SUV overtook Pastor Koh’s vehicle, while another tailed from behind. A third SUV was on the right side of the road against the oncoming traffic.

      When all three SUVs stopped, Pastor Koh’s silver Honda Accord was boxed in by the three SUVs at 10.31:43am.

      A light-coloured Proton followed from behind, tailed by two motorcyclists and a second Proton car, from which a passenger alighted to direct the unsuspecting driver of a Myvi trying to overtake from behind.

      As soon as the first Proton stopped, the two motorcyclists rode ahead of the stopped vehicles. The incident happened at Jalan SS4B/10 which is a rather quiet, two-way street.

      The motorcyclists’ job was therefore obviously to direct traffic coming from the opposite direction as one of the SUVs was on the right side of Pastor Koh’s car.

      When the Myvi driver wanted to overtake the second Proton, one of the men got out of the Proton to instruct the driver to reverse. This was followed by one of the motorcyclists.

      Everything was very well-rehearsed! By 10.32:25, the abduction drama was over. It was very much like watching ‘Mission Impossible’.

      • This is of public importance but off-topic items should go under Readers Alerts.

  4. Of all human industries, no different from oil & mineral extractions is property industry:

    mass production >
    price manipulation (despite increased density & cheap foreign labor) / price monopoly >
    market speculation (no thanks to fear-syndrome news or exhilarations by property gurus) >
    hoarding (buy & sell mercilessly) >
    artificial market demand riding on over-supply which skews real market operatives >
    social engineering in urban centres (leave if you cannot afford) >
    dying of local businesses, old trades, family-run businesses >
    increase in costs of living & doing business (caused mainly by increased in rentals & properties) >
    hardship for most workers seeking to make a living >
    windfall for local gomen from quit rents, property taxes, swap deals, anything in the name of Money Is King >
    less & less green spaces in urbanisation as land costs increased (opportunity costs for making quickie profits & financing questionable / unsustainable development matter to greedy minds & political traders respectively)

    The underlining cause is none other than human greed & kia su & no principles (of gomen).

    • This is unfathomable:
      Soon, developers may find ways (or excuses) to building homes with shorter life-cycle like computers.
      30 yrs? 50 yrs? In the face of limited supply of land, this is a possibility as there will be perpetual business for developers & contractors to build & tear down + rebuild.

      • talk rubbish and insult to engineers.design life in british building code is 50 years.
        why not say doc and surgeons give shorter life treatment.

    • is it your money to open kopi tiams, roti prata shops, hand phones counters, factories or property development or private universities. if lost money in the venture, did they ask you for money?

  5. J.S.H.Cunyngham-Brown who was a Chairman Of Leprosy Hospital in 1970’S.I do have a group picture of him which taken together with the hospital’s staff’s.

  6. why tua pek kong and ngos dont investigate who is the master mind and destroyer of fine leprosy hospital as described by pg govenor? remove the saddest?

  7. GEORGE TOWN, Feb 27 ― The local chapters of the International Real Estate Federation (Fiabci) and Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) today defended the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), saying the proposal was needed for the continued development of the state.

    Representatives from both organisations said the plan should not be judged solely on the environmental impact to the state, but on the overall advantages it could offer the state.

  8. There is now a haunted museum for Selfie lovers in heritage Penang. So human can coexist with ghosts on Jerejak?

  9. Penang always tak boleh but singland always can do. There are many islands like pulau belakang mati with graves before they are combined to form petrochemical complex. Also in the main island, how to find land for the living? Many graves are exhumed and high-rise are built over.

    • Bishan HDB estate in Singapore is built on former cemetery land, yet the flats there are now one of the most expensive in the nation because of good location and proximity to the city, good schools and excellent parks.

      • Yes but Jerejak graves are no ordinary graves. They are overwhelmingly of people who suffered much pain and misery and rejection.

      • japs came to singland and terrorised the vast amount of civilians with beheading and shooting in front of others to subdue the population similar to nanking. graves were everwhere. same as to yankees atom bombed hiroshima and charred corpses are everyone. so much are the sufferrings but lives are for the livings.

  10. don’t forget the many inmates at the prison on the island who were executed there. they were hung to death and their souls will be there to exact revenge. Many inmates died violent deaths at the hands of the other inmates as well .

  11. Rollercoaster Theme Park on Merriam on of the kind in the world with extra thrills paranormal experience even Ghost Adventurers like Zack will love it!

  12. According to Chinese belief, ghosts or disembodied entities won’t cross a body of sea.
    Should development goes ahead with a bridge crossing to Pulau Jerejak, the 5,000 island bounded hungry ghosts would be able to cross over to Penang island during Hungry Ghost Month!
    Residents along the coast esp. Gold Coast Resort Condo, beware!

    • More josssticks candles along the coast of Goldcoast condo, QBayMall, PutraMarine Condo etc to become friendly with the underworld!

    • Speak like snake oil pasar MLM trader. Year of rooster and don’t cocky to insult Chinese belief that ghosts won’t cross a body of sea which represent water. In this case, in olden days china are divided by 2 major waters the yellow and yantzse river and ghosts are regionally confined.

  13. Nowadays, you don’t see a leper in our midst, but back in the 60s in George Town, as a child I have the rare occasions to see a few lepers in town. Their skins, noses, ears were disfigured – skins like lunar moon surface with pot holes & noses ‘bitten away’.
    People just kept their distance & I could see in the lepers’ eyes a certain sadness & rejection.
    For them, life was worst than bo bin-chui – emotionally & physically.

    • Someone just informed me that the less offensive term is ‘people affected by leprosy’ or ‘leprosy patients’ (rather than lepers).

      • Call a spade, a spade. If the term ‘leper’ is good enough for the Bible, who are these so-called politically-correct advocates to say otherwise.

  14. Pulau Jerejak tu tempat yang memang “keras”.
    You respect them (the disembodied), they don’t “kacau” you.
    You “teguh” them, they “ikut u balik”. There are no kopitiam (of Yang human auras + bright lights) in the island to seek refuge to break the Ying of “ikut balik”.
    Or lest you are ‘oon ke’ (low aura) & may attract these malevolent entities from this island of sorrows, sufferings & unearthly bondage.
    Anil, it’s more than the disembodied dead from the cemetery, as there are ‘others’ unimaginable & more terrifying.

    There is one condo in GreenLane (opposite GreenLane Height market) that was built on once Chinese cemetery which already saw 4 suicides of jumping down from the 15 + 16 floors.
    Rumours have it said the clearing of deceased bones (before development in situ) was not carefully done leaving some bone remnants, which eventually cursed the place as “keras”.
    I once in a while visited this condo which gave me the creeps as my 6th sense ran alert.

    • only cares for trees, hills and roosting at komtar and no sympathy for those jumpers. a few comforting words will save them if inform the befrienders.

    • It’s so difficult when there is no political will to do so.
      Commercial interests (or more precisely, developers’ interests) ride sky-high over Komtar!
      In the name of housing (as chips of Monopoly Board Game for the rich & famous) & tourism products creation, anything goes.
      If a Proton Perdana is not good enough & changing to Merc S300Lansi is better in the name of discounts, anything can happen.
      Forget about all the saliva-talk of 308!

    • It’s all about greed of men, especially for DAP. When they’re not in power, they’re “poor”.

      But now they have tasted power, they know how good it feels to be NOT “poor”.

      Back in 2012, Dr Jacob George slammed the DAP state government for allowing “mafia developers” of usurping the state and make it become an elusive place for the rich people; Dr Jacob George said one ah, not any BN machai or politicians.


      Anything has changed from 2012 until now? Nope, still the same, still constructions frenzy every nook and corner of Penang.

      Oh, building a 4 lanes bridge to Pulau Jerejak? Scrap that, why not just reclaim the land from Penang and merge it into Pulau Jerejak, lol! The area where the industrial zone is (i.e. Intel & Agilent) can be considered as the starting point to reclaim the land all the way to Jerejak, that’s a much better “idea” what.

      And who cares about the graveyard (no offence to the dead), but again, it’s all about money, money and money. You think the state government cares about the people and Penang ah? Heck, that “tak-tau-malu-punya-CM” is not even a son of Penang for Pete’s sake! He’s an unwanted and rejected politician from Melaka . And he still has the gall to launch that “I Love Penang” campaign?

      I’ll say it again and again, “padan muka” to all Penangites. You guys deserved the government you voted in.

      To be honest, I hope they continue to build more concretes on Penang. All these “concrete scars” are irreversible and will serve as a reminder why DAP shouldn’t be given any power, not even state governance (they can forget about federal power).

      • tell gilakan and mca port commision to start a ferry service. now those visit has to take a pirate sampan. got insurance?
        during gilakan time, many lands and swamps are cleared for factories and roads. no complains? you can afford to buy and live in factories?

      • Gerakan and MCA are already dead, mampus, si liao, gone case, dead man walking and dead horse. So why you want to flog a dead horse?

        Your CM is charged with corruption, why silent about it? Why mention Gerakan and MCA who already mampus and irrelevant?


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