Local Malay historians, academicians and non-governmental organisations (NGO) want George Town and Butterworth to be renamed back to their original names.
They have urged Unesco, National Heritage Department and the state government to change George Town name to Tanjong and Butterworth to Bagan.
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Centre for Policy Research and International Studies (Cenpris) faculty member Prof Dr Ahmad Murad Marican said that the original names proved that the Malay community had been in Penang before Francis Light stepped on its shore.
“By acknowledging the original names, it means that the earlier history is being acknowledged as well. I hope the relevant authorities will be open to this,” he told at a press conference at USM in George Town today.
He claimed that the name of Tanjong was changed to George Town in 1786 by Francis Light and Bagan’s name was changed to Butterworth in 1800 by former Governor of Prince of Wales Island, Alexander William Leith.
Murad said the early history and narrative of the city should be included in the Unesco status bestowed to George Town as a city rich with history and heritage.
The idea to change the name had been mooted by Hashim Awang, a local assemblyman in 1958 but no follow up had been done by anyone till now.
Ahmad Murad also said that the state government could name the streets and roads according to the name of old Malay settlement founders such as Datuk Nakhoda Intan and Datuk Nakhoda Kecil.
Datuk Nakhoda Intan, or its original name Raja Nan Intan from Paya Kumbuh, Sumatera Barat had opened the Batu Uban port and built a settlement in the area in 1734 after getting approval from the Kedah sultanate, Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Abidin Muazzam Shah II.
After his arrival, his relatives, Nakhoda Bayan and Nakhoda Kecil had come to open a settlement in Bayan Lepas and Jelutong.
A USM study showed that Francis Light had arrived at Penang shores some 52 years after they (Nakhoda Bayan and Nakhoda Kecil) had reached and till now, the Batu Uban mosque is still standing strong even though it is more than 200 years old.
Ahmad Murad, also the Penang Heritage and History Society president, said that the proposal was meant to decolonise George Town as pre-British history of the state was not given recognition by any parties.
“It would be an honour for them as they had also contributed to the history of the state. Don’t only look at the white-man’s history. Look beyond it,” he said.