All I know about our Penang Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi (檳城瑞鵲堂柯公司) comes from the official Rules and Regulations of the Kongsi, which states that the clan house in Penang, Swee Cheok Tong (瑞鵲堂), was established in 1846 (Pia Gor year in the reign of Emperor Toh Kong (道光帝)) by the Ow Quah clansmen that originated from Tia Boay (village), Tung Uahn Kuan (district), Chuan Chew Hoo (prefecture), Hock Kian Seng (province), China.
In these Rules and Regulations, which were dated 5 Dec 1941, it was acknowledged that the Ow-Quah clansmen that had established the Penang Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi were members of the family of the Hye Inn Tong (海印堂) ancestral worship hall in Tia Boay. The It Keng Tong (一经堂) was the other main Ow Quah ancestral worship hall in the village.
Without actually visiting the place, it is no longer so simple trying to locate my ancestral village in these modern times. As small communities grew bigger, they coalesced, boundaries were redrawn, and names of places were changed, sometimes significantly. For example, the jurisdiction of Tung Uahn Kuan in the early 20th century used to be quite extensive and important. The vast region it administered included the present-day Xiamen municipality, Jinmen county and the north-eastern part of Longhai city. In May 1997, Tung Uahn Kuan (in Pinyin, now known as Tong'anqu (同安區)) lost its earlier administrative status and became a district within the Xiamen municipality itself. It suffered further reduced influence in 2003 when five towns were split off to form a new district.
I know that in present-day China, the two worship halls of my ancestral clan house are now described in Pinyin as the Haiyintang (海印堂) and Yijingtang (hall) (一涇堂), located in Houkecun (village) (後柯村), Dongfuzhen (town) (东孚镇), Haicangqu (district) (海滄區), Xiamenshi (municipality) (廈門市) in Fujiansheng (province) (福建省).
Anyway, Hock Kian Province in southern China was where most of the Quah family clan in South-East Asia would have originated from. In this part of the world, the Quah surname can be found in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, and probably dispersed elsewhere too, like Indonesia. Other derivatives of the spelling would be Qua, Keo, Kua, Kwa, Kuah, Kwah, Kuo, Ko, Cua, et cetera, but the Chinese character remains as 柯.
Here in Penang, our Swee Cheok Tong Quah Kongsi is a closely-knit society with a small membership almost to the point of exclusivity. It is actually so small and steeped in Confucian values that I fear for its very existence and survival in 50 years' time.
Again from verbal stories told to me, it seemed that in the years before the Japanese Occupation, there was an attempt to reach out to all the Quah people in Penang to raise funds to purchase landed properties on the island. However, only those whose ancestors were from Tung Uahn Kuan responded. As a result, the society's board of trustees then decided that membership would henceforth be opened only to the local descendants of the Quah community from Tung Uahn Kuan. Among all the members, only the names of two notable persons spring to my mind and they were both from the long, distant past. The first one I should mention is Quah Beng Kee, while the other is Quah Sin Kheng. Both were very successful merchants and businessmen.
I should also mention that many people often mistake our Quah Kongsi for the more visible Chay Yeong Tong Sin Quah Chuah Chong Soo (济阳堂辛柯蔡宗祠) in Pulau Tikus, Penang. No, our societies are two separate entities. The members of the Swee Cheok Tong are exclusively descendants of the Quah clansmen in the Tung Uahn Kuan mentioned above, whereas the members of the Sin Quah Chuah can be made up of anyone whose surnames are Sin, Quah and Chuah. The three surnames are supposedly closely knitted (but don't ask me how), regardless of their origins in China. It is interesting to note again that people with the Quah surname whose ancestors were not from Tung Uahn Kuan are not eligible to join the Swee Cheok Tong but they can join the Sin Quah Chuah anytime.
Recently, I came across an old, undated newspaper clipping by Lim Lay Ling - it must have been from the 1990s when The Straits Times in Singapore used to run a regular series on Chinese surnames - which gave a short account of the Quah surname.
History records that Wu state was passed down by Taibo, uncle of King Wen, during the Zhou dynasty (周朝) 3,000 years ago.
[Note: Some explanations are required here before I get too confused myself:
Ji Danfu (姬亶父) was a legendary figure who lived during the tail-end of the Shang dynasty (商朝). After he established the duchy of Zhou in the Wei Valley, he took the name of King Tai of Zhou (周太王). Ji Danfu had three sons: Ji Taibo (姬泰伯) who was the eldest, Ji Zhongyong (姬仲雍) who was the second son and Ji Jili (姬季歷) who was the youngest.
The Chinese historian, Szu-ma Chien, recorded that Ji Danfu and his son Ji Jili were both renowned for their wisdom. As a result, Ji Jili's two elder brothers Ji Taibo and Ji Zhongyong voluntarily renounced their claims on the throne and left in exile to the state of Wu. As Taibo had no heir when he died, the Wu throne was passed down to Zhongyong.
Ji Jili was later to become King Ji of Zhou (周公季). Ji Jili's son was Ji Chang (姬昌) who was also known as King Wen of Zhou (周文王). Ji Chang's son was Ji Fa (姬發) and later, was the King Wu of Zhou (周武王) who established the imperial Zhou dynasty (周朝) upon him overthrowing the Shang dynasty. Confused? You bet I sure am!]
At first, the place did not attract much attention but after several generations of hard work in the country by Taibo's descendants, the land slowly became known. They migrated southwards and became a prominent clan in southern China, especially in Fujian (Fukien) Province.
Besides the people from the state of Wu, other groups like the descendants of Jiang Taigong (姜太公), a well-known statesman in the Zhou dynasty and some minority ethnic groups also adopted Ke as their surname.
As in other clans, the Ke had their share of brilliant people.
One of them was Ke Su, an official under Emperor Song Shen-zong (1048-1085) of the Song dynasty. It was said that when he was an officer, he often helped and raised funds for the poor. Legend has it that two magpies often built tleir nests on the beams of his house. Later, when his official term was up and he moved to another place, the birds also followed him.This story was mentioned by Su Dongpo, a great poet who also lived during the same period, in one of his prose pieces.Personally, I believe it was wrong of the newspaper editors to say that the Ke was descended from Ji Taibo. It can't be that simple. Even the writer herself was silent about how it came about, especially since Taibo reportedly had no heir. However, in order to put the above narration into its proper perspective, here is an alternative story of the origin of the Ke surname - this time, from north of the Yangtze River - which I had extracted from a deeply-buried post in the soc-culture.china newsgroup, written by Chung Yoon Ngan on 22 April 1996. Read the two and you may be able to connect them together. According to Chung:
In the Ming dynasty, there was a scholar of noble character named Ke Qian. His aloofness and casual attitude towards life, though quite uncommon in those days, was respected by many people.
Another scholar who deserves mention was Ke Qian's great grandson, Ke Weiqi (1497-1574), who rejected an officer's post so as to concentrate on his research on history. Although he was well-read, he only concentrated his efforts on historical research. He was so meticulous and serious in his work that it took him nearly 20 years to compile the histories of three dynasties - Song (960-1279), Liao (916-1125) and Jin (1115-1234) - into one book. The book, called A New History of Song Dynasty, was highly acclaimed in the academic field.
Then there was Ke Tie. a patriot who came from Taiwan during the late Qing dynasty. He was a paper-maker. When the Japanese put pressure on the Qing government to give up Taiwan to them in 1895, Ke Tie and a few others led an armed resistance.
Although Ke originated in the south, some Chinese northerners also bear the surname. One of these was Ke Shaomin (1850-1933), a contemporary historian from Shandong Province in northern China. He was well-read and had a deep knowledge in history. In 1914, he was made the principal of Qingshiguan, a committee set up by the Republic government to allow a group of people to compile the history of the Qing dynasty.
Ke Shaodong was also the author ol several books. One of them was Xin Yuan Shu, a book on the history of the Yuan dynasty and the Mongolians, which was made the official history by the government.
Ke means the stem of the branches of a tree or a grass, e.g., Ke is written as Mu (wood) and Ke (can). The surname Ke is about 3,100 years old and this is its history:
Jiang Shang alias Jiang Ziya (and also known as Jiang Taigong) was 32 years old when he entered a monastery. His ambition was to become an immortal. Needless to say, he failed.
During the reign of King Zhou of Shang (1154BC-1122BC), Jiang left the monastery. He married a woman who could not bear him a child. Later, he married again and this second wife bore him two sons. At first, Jiang went into business but he failed miserably as he did not have the know-how. Eventually, he became a part-time fisherman.
Ji Chang was the leader of the Zhou people who lived in the region of Wei Valley west of the great bend of Huang He (Yellow River). His domain was within the empire of the Shang dynasty. He was obliged to serve as an advisor in the Shang Court in the capital Chao Ge (present day Qi Xian in Henan province).
King Zhou was a wicked and cruel King. Later, he imprisoned Ji Chang for three years and also killed his son Ji Kao who was his assistant. After his release, Ji Chang returned to his homeland and died soon after. His son Ji Fa became the leader of the Zhou people.
Jiang Ziya had been employed by Ji Chang before he went to the capital to serve the wicked King Zhou. Now, Ji Fa appointed him as the commander-in-chief of the Zhou armed forces.
Under his command was a young general by the name of Ke Lu. As he was already very old and General Ke was still very young and capable, Jiang Ziya relied heavily on him to do all the active duties. General Jiang spent most of the time studying military strategies and tactics.
The surname Ke originated in an area called Ji Yang Prefecture during the Jin Dynasty (265AD to 420AD). Ji means "help, aid, relieve." Yang means "the sun, bright, clear, masculine, positive." The present day location of Ji Yang Prefecture is in Dingtao Xian in Shandong province China.
So this is about all I can gather about the origins of the Quah people and the Quah (Ke) surname, which dated back to the ancient Chinese states of Wu (11th Century BC - 473BC) and Qi (1046BC-221BC). These stories should not be accepted as definitive and I can see so many loose ends which I've not bothered to verify. And I can't! I'm sure that there are lots more stories that can be written but like most other records, they are already lost in the mists of time and would be grossly inaccurate.