Malaysiakini Letter

Disappointing - heritage significance of Pulau Jerejak ignored

Penang Heritage Trust  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | The Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) is dismayed that the Chief Minister of Penang, Chow Kon Yeow, had once again dismissed the efforts to list Pulau Jerejak as a Unesco World Heritage Site. 

This comes following the successful listing of Sungai Buloh Leprosarium into the tentative list of Unesco World Heritage Sites. In a video clip released by the state media Bulletin Mutiara on June 12, the chief minister had explicitly expressed that "[...] had no plan to be part of the submission" and "[...] had not discussed the matter".

The proposed joint listing of Pulau Jerejak and Sungai Buloh is seen to be unique as these were leprosarium colonies that had managed to support the livelihood of lepers while preventing an epidemic outbreak of leprosy in 19th century Malaya. Pulau Jerejak’s history in leprosy precedes Sungai Buloh and it is important that this narrative is preserved both locally and globally.

The changes that occurred in Pulau Jerejak, including into a quarantine camp, tuberculosis sanatorium and a detention centre, further shows that it is a part of Penang’s history that is worth preserving. Pulau Jerejak also has more than 5,000 graves of mixed faiths including Muslims, Christians and Buddhist.

It was made public that a series of developments, including luxurious condominiums, resorts, commercial centre and a bridge linking the Pulau Jerejak and Penang Island were planned to revitalise the island. However, these developments will potentially come in conflict with the proposed listing of Pulau Jerejak as most of the leprosarium camps and heritage artefact are located on the similar land earmarked for development.

PHT reminds the Penang government that George Town’s listing is a good example of how development and revitalisation of an area can be done with respect to its heritage. Penangites deserve a well-balanced development for the island that incorporates its heritage and natural treasure, instead of hasty developments that will wipe out the history of Pulau Jerejak forever.

Considering this, Penang Heritage Trust strongly urges the Penang government to reconsider the proposals of Pulau Jerejak and to put the listing of Pulau Jerejak as a priority for the island. If the heritage of Pulau Jerejak is not preserved, it is a disservice to Malaysians as Sungai Buloh’s chances for World Heritage listing might be adversely affected. 

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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