The clan jetties in Georgetown were established in the 19th century when immigrants from China arrived to work as port labourers and settled along the waterfront. They built houses on stilts along Weld Quay as they were too poor to find housing on land and the jetties were formed. These immigrants tend to stick to their own clans based on geographical and lineage origin. They set up homes together to provide support to each other in a new land.
Today the descendants from six clans still live in this labyrinth of wooden houses built on stilts connected by wooden boardwalk. Each jetty is named after the clan surname – Chews (姓周桥), Lees (姓李桥), Lims (姓林桥), Tans (姓陈桥), Yeohs (姓杨桥) and Mixed. The clan surname is displayed at the main entrance to the respective jetty. Every jetty also has its own temple.
While their ancestors made their living by fishing or working as labourers and coolies in the port, these days, most of the descendants earn their income by working in town.
The Chew Jetty is the largest, most vibrant and tourist friendly. Its inhabitants are also very entrepreneurial. Shops are scattered around the Chew Jetty offering wares ranging from souvenirs to food and beverages catering to visitors. There are even a few homestays too. The other jetties are relatively quiet with little or no commercial activities in sight.
Visitors are free to explore, get lost amongst the maze of houses and get a glimpse of the inhabitants’ lives as they go about their daily activities. As the Clan Jetties form part of the Penang Heritage Trail, the inhabitants are probably used to the presence of curious tourists. But one still has to be mindful not to encroach into the inhabitants homes while taking a pleasant stroll in this quaint and historical settlement.