Thursday, October 1, 2009

Our early " Keling kwei" clippings

This is a " must read " article from my news archive collection if old timers want to relive those early days of their childhood. It was written by Felix Chia and published in the Weekender on 28 June 1981.
In this very interesting article, Felix tells us about the 3 kinds of trade that the early Indians were involved in....
the road maker, the road sweeper and last but not least, the "kachang putih" man.
Those of my generation would have seen all three in action, all over Singapore, at one time or another.
I like the jibes found in column three and five not because they are jokes ( no joke...many of our locals used to tease them without malice just as Felix had described).
These Indian labourers were brought over from India mainly to build and maintain our roads and bridges. They had to work very hard with all kinds of manual tools. It was not uncommon to see them digging a hole here and a hole there...and later to close it up again. That's what "Samy" was doing in the photo....banging away with a heavy iron pounder.
Their actions often brought some jibes from locals.
Here is a sample:
Salleh: " Apa lah, Ahneh! Kreja tidak ka? Korek lobang. Tutop lobang! "
[ Hey what you doing? Nothing better to do? Dig hole. Fill up hole! ]
Samy the early road labourer replies:
" Apa korek, korek? Lu bodoh lah! "
[ What dig, dig? You are stupid ! ]
The early labourers before Samy's time were convicts brought over from the Indian continent.
Many were used in the making of the roads and railway tracks in Malaya. To prevent them from escaping, they were often chained together, leg to leg, ankle to ankle.
As they moved along the roadside, the chains made a clinking sound..." Klink...klink...klink...klink".
Soon the locals called them " kelings" after the sounds they made.
The Cantonese call them even to this day " keling kwei".
The word " kwei" which means devil or ghost, is often used by Chinese to describe foreigners other than they themselves.
So you have " hong moh kwei" [ red hair devil ] referring to all the Europeans,
" mei kwok kwei"[ American devils ], and say " Yup Poon kwei" [ Japanese devils ].
However, the mainland Chinese in China, through out history,never refer to themselves as "devils"...Never!
What did or do they call themselves? You won't believe it!
They have always called themselves as " tung yan " [ sugar people ]...meaning sweet!

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