‘Living treasure’ faces eviction from Kampung Siam

Boon Leau (left) shows his brothers Wintar (second left) and Charmarath and father Wan Dee a copy of the British agreement. — Picture by R. Mahgeshan
Boon Leau (left) shows his brothers Wintar (second left) and Charmarath and father Wan Dee a copy of the British agreement. — Picture by R. Mahgeshan

GEORGE TOWN, March 16 — Penang Heritage Trust’s Living Heritage Treasure 2007 award winner Wan Dee Aroonratana and his family are among those at risk of being evicted from their ancestral land in Kampung Siam, Pulau Tikus, here.

The 93-year-old, who won the award for being the last Thai Menora performer and shaman in the state, is heartbroken his  family will have to move from the village to make way for a proposed five-storey budget hotel.

“This is where I grew up and where my family resides. It brings many memories,” he told Malay Mail.

Wan Dee learned the art of Menora at the age of 14 and followed his father, Pakwan Dee Aroonratana, also a well-known Menora dancer.

He performed the dance for the final time at Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram Thai Buddhist temple in George Town in 2002 when he was 80, and has since retired. 

Wan Dee has 11 children, 24 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren aged from two years old, and is the fifth generation of his family to live in Kampung Siam.

His 10th child, Boon Leua, and seven other family members are staying with him, and the others moved out after they  married.

Boon Leua, 58, who is the Penang Siamese Association chairman, showed Malay Mail a photocopy of an agreement between the Siamese and Burmese communities and the British on May 30, 1845.

He said the agreement was proof the land they were staying on in Kampung Siam belonged to the Burmese Thai Trust Committee.

“I have no idea how the land is now owned by a private developer,” he said. 

“In early 2000, we were asked to pay a monthly rent of RM10 all of a sudden.”

Boon Leua said the residents paid the rent to a legal firm appointed by the developer, and it went up to RM25, which they paid until 2008 when the developer stopped asking for it. 

In 2014, the residents received an eviction notice.

“We were shocked we were chased away from our ancestral land,”  he said.

About 50 people are currently staying in the village, and Boon Leua said they had no idea when they would be evicted.

He said the residents were awaiting advice from their Pulau Tikus assemblyman, Yap Soo Huey, and lawyer on what to do next.

“We hope we can stay here for many years to come. It is our land and heritage. Our ancestors’ graveyard is still here,” Boon Leua said.

The 2,681 sq m land, which has 11 houses and 10 shops, is located off Jalan Burmah in the suburbs of Pulau Tikus.

The residents filed a case in the Sessions Court to challenge the eviction notice issued on April 2014 by developer Five Star Heritage Sdn Bhd in a bid to save their village, but their application was dismissed. 

Their appeal to the High Court in June last year was also dismissed on Feb 24 this year.

Yap urged the developer to allocate few residential units for the residents so that they could continue to stay there.

On Sunday, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng told newsmen the government would help get fair compensation for the Kampung Siam residents.

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