Hui Hui And Other People (Thursday, March 31, 2005)
One day in our afternoon religious class, my friend L surprised me by saying that he’d been enjoying some Chinese New Year cake that his family had received from mainland China. L was a pretty ordinary chap, fair of skin and voluble in his Trengganuspeak. In our daily dalliance, he was very much like one of us, but it was when he started to talk of his yearly bite of his exotic cake that I realised that he was one of us and more. He was from the al-Yunani clan, a prominent Chinese Muslim family in Kuala Trengganu.
The al-Yunani family of Trengganu were not strictly from the Yunnan, but were the Hui-Hui people from the Guangdong province in China. Members of L’s family who were early settlers in Kuala Trengganu adpted the family name al-Yunani (of the Yunnan) to signal to the local Malays and to the Chinese community that they were Muslim people, though they were not themselves from there.
The Hui Huis were generally Han Chinese, but in later classification of the Muslim community in China, the name was used to embrace other Muslim ethnic groups too, including the Turkic Muslims and even the former Nestorian Christians who converted to Islam many, many years ago. But the al-Yunani Hui Huis of Kuala Trengganu were Guangdong people who shared the same ethnicity as their non-Muslim cousins in Kampung China.
The journey of L’s al-Yunani family to Trengganu started in 1903 when Haji Ali bin idris (later to be known as Pak Ali Yunan), his wife Hajjah Halimah, and his mother-in-law left Palembang where they’d been settled, for Singapore.There they found another person, whose name was to become famous in Kuala Trengganu, Abdullah bin Sulaiman, or Pak Lah Yunan, and another man from Guangdong named Musa (Pak Musa). From there they looked for another place to go to, and finally decided on Trengganu, a state once visited by Cheng Ho (Zheng He). And so, joined by Pak Lah’s wife Khadijah (Pak Musa’ niece who joined them from Guangdong) and another man, Daud, they settled in Kuala Trengganu.
Pak Musa became an itinerant medicine peddler, Pak Daud became a general trader in Jalan Kedai Payang, while Pak Lah went to prospect for gold in Hulu Trengganu. While he was away, his wife and daughter opened a laundry shop in Kuala Trengganu, called Kedai Abdullah al-Yunani. When Pak Lah came back from the sticks, having failed to find much gold in the Hulu, he began to spend his days in the laundry shop, adding other items to its inventory, religious books on the shelves, and rice bags on the shop floor. Soon, in an act of trimming down, he stopped taking in dirty linen, and stopped the trade in rice entirely. He concentrated on the book-trade, and for a long time Abdullah al-Yunani became the most famous bookshop in Jalan Kedai Payang, in Kuala Trengganu.
In the records of the al-Yunani family of Trengganu, they have 7 pioneers who came down to Trengganu from China, the first five under the reign of Sultan Zainal Abidin III (1881 -1918)— Musa Li, Ali Zhang bin Idris, Abdullah Dong bin Sulaiman, Daud Dong and Hassan Liu bin Salleh. Then two more under the reign of Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah (1921- 1942) — Muhammad Yusuf Xiao bin salleh, and Haji Ibrahim Fu bin Muhammad.
Now, although almost completely absorbed into the Malay community of Trengganu, the al-Yunanis still look back to their roots in China if only to remind themselves how far they’ve travelled to be there.