In my opinion, the Khoo Kongsi is a must-visit whenever in Penang. Open to members of the public every day of the year from 9:00am to 5:00pm, we paid RM10 to enter and were given postcards and a sticker each. Children under the age of 12 require only RM1 to enter while children under the age of five do not require a fee to enter.
Kongsi translates into clanhouse and in this case, this clanhouse belongs to the Khoo clan with an impressive lineage dating back 650 years. Located in the oldest part of Georgetown amidst other pre-War buildings, it is the grandest of all the clanhouses in Malaysia with elaborate and highly ornamented architecture. Together with the Cheah, Yeoh, Lim and Tan Kongsi, they were known as the Five Big Clans and formed the backbone of the Hokkien community in early Penang.
The clanhouse is made up of a cluster of buildings, including an association building, a traditional theatre (pictured below) and late 19th-century clan houses encircling a granite-paved square. The Khoo Kongsi is a clan association belonging to the Leong San Tong (Dragon Mountain Hall) clan, whose forefathers originate from Sin Kang District (now known as Xiangcheng District 芗城区) in the Chinese province of Fujian (福建省).
The Khoos were one of the wealthy groups Straits Chinese traders of 17th century Malacca and early Penang. The forefathers of the Khoo family who emigrated from South China built it as a clan house for members of the Khoo family in 1851. Then, the clan complex resembled a miniature clan village, with its own self-government, as well as educational, financial, welfare and social organisations. In 1894, it burnt down from allegedly lightweight and the Chinese believed that it was due to its resemblance to the Emperor's palace, which provoked the gods. In 1902, they begun building a scaled-down version, which was completed in 1906 with the addition of a clan temple. The clan temple is dedicated to the clan's patron deities and also houses a collection of ancestral tablets. I did not take a photograph of the deity altars and ancestral tablets as as sign of respect. I did, however, take a photograph of the entrance of the temple, where there are elaborate paper lanterns painted with the Khoo (邱) surname.
Even though scaled-down, the complex still boasts a magnificent hall embellished with intricate carvings and richly ornamented beams of the finest wood bearing the mark of master craftsmen from China.
Lifting my head, I was even amazed at how much thought was put into the roof patterns. Evidently, the architectural expression that received most attention was the timber work. Just look at how carefully calculated all the trusses and beams are held in place using a technique called "three cross beams, five queen posts".
The basement has been converted into a museum and if you are lucky like my friends and I were on one of our visits, you may bump into a local Khoo paying his respects to his ancestors who would volunteer to explain things to you. It was through one of the many Mr. Khoos and his son who happily shared information regarding how prolific Khoo descendants would have a plaque displayed at the Kongsi. Only the boys, though, as the girls would not carry on the family name. They have a genealogy chart, which they strictly abide by and today, they have followed up to their 27th generation.
The Kongsi is rather hidden from view and even the main entrance of the Kongsi is rather inauspiciously marked. Would help to ask the locals for directions but do keep an eye out or Google for Owl Shop, as the entrance is just next to this shop.
18 Cannon Square, 10200 Penang, Malaysia.
Tel: +60 4 261 4609, Fax: +60 4 262 2591