Penang- The Island Name:
People on the mainland just call the island of Penang, “The Island”.
The island was referred to as 檳榔嶼 (Bīnláng Yù) in the navigational drawings used by the famous Chinese Admiral Zheng He of Ming-dynasty in his expeditions to the South Seas in his 15th century journeys. These journeys took the Chinese fleet all the way to Africa. On his several trips with thousand ships he made Malaysia a regular stop for replenishing the fleet.
The name "Penang" comes from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang, which means island of the areca nut palm (Areca catechu, family Palmae). The name Penang can refer either to the island of Penang or the state of Penang. The capital of Penang state is George Town.
More specifically, George Town is also called Tanjung in Malay. Penang Island is simply Pulau Pinang and Penang state is Negeri Pulau Pinang in Malay.
Penang is also known as "The Pearl of the Orient" and "Pulau Pinang Pulau Mutiara" (Penang Island of Pearls in the Malay language).
History of Penang
Penang Island was just a place to store fishing equipment. Just temporary shacks for thousands of years but no major settlements until the British East India Company became interested.
Penang was originally part of the Malay Sultanate of Kedah. On 11 August 1786, Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company landed in Penang and renamed it Prince of Wales Island in honor of heir to the British throne.
Captain Light then received it as a portion on his marriage to the daughter of the Sultan of Kedah. Light ceded Penang to the Government of India and promised the Sultan military protection from Siamese and Burmese armies who were threatening Kedah. Captain Light is now credited as the founder of Penang but he never kept his word on the agreement.
Many early settlers succumbed to malaria, earning Penang the epithet "the White Man's Grave". This was true in other parts of the tropical zone all over the world.
Unbeknownst to the Sultan, Captain Light had acted without the approval of the East India Company when he promised military protection. When the Company failed to aid Kedah when Siam attacked it, the Sultan tried to retake the island in 1790. The attempt was unsuccessful, and the Sultan was forced to cede the island to the Company for an honorarium of 6,000 Spanish dollars per annum.
This was later increased to 10,000 dollars, with Province Wellesley on the mainland of the Malay Peninsula being added to Penang in 1800. An annual honorarium of 10,000 ringgits continues to this day be paid by the Malaysian Federal Government to the state of Kedah.
In 1826, Penang, along with Malacca and Singapore, became part of the Straits Settlements under the British administration in India, moving to direct British colonial rule in 1867. In 1946 it became part of the Malayan Union, before becoming in 1948 a state of the Federation of Malaya, which gained independence in 1957 and became Malaysia in 1963.
The island was a free port until 1969. Despite the loss of the island's free-port status, from the 1970s to the late 1990s the state built up one of the largest electronics manufacturing bases in Asia, in the Free Trade Zone around the airport in the south of the island.
On 7 July 2008, George Town, the historic capital of Penang was formally inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside with Malacca. It is officially recognized as having a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.