Capturing family history

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 24 July 2015 | Asia Samachar |
Dr Narveen from University of Nottingham leading the  Hidden Histories Project.
Dr Narveen from University of Nottingham leading the Hidden Histories Project.

Your father or grandfather landed in Malaya some 75 years ago.

How did he feel coming to this distant land from the land-locked Punjab? Was it the first time he saw the sea? Where did he spend the first night in Malaya? What belongings did he carry with him? What were the thoughts running through his mind? Was he worried or eager to chalk his next path?

These are some of questions you may want to pose to your elders who are still around. Only they can answer some of these questions – no one else.

But how do we capture those moments and how do we preserve them? Help is on the way with a newly launched endeavour called The Hidden Histories Project.

Dr Narveen Kaur, a post-doctoral researcher from UK’s University of Nottingham, will lead the second roadshow on the project led by the Coalition of Malaysian Sikh Organisations (CMSO) at the Sabha House in Kuala Lumpur on 26 July (Sunday) between 3-5pm.

“We like to see more youth coming forward to help preserve our heritage in this country,” CMSO secretary-general Autar Singh tells Asia Samachar.

The first roadshow was held at Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya on 19 July.

“This is an opportunity to tell our stories in this country. This is to lay the claim of your stake for the nation. People become immortal when their stories are told,” Autar said in his opening address after an ardaas.

“This is gives us an oganised, structured system to capture our family history. It will be online. If there are gaps, then someone else can help fill it up.”

A website ( has been launched for the project.


Dr Narveen, a Malaysian-born attached with the university’s Centre for Hidden Histories, is now looking at family narratives of arrival in Malaysia to the end of 1920 for the first phase of her current project, then to be extended to the late periods.

“We have our oral histories passed down in our own families. We have our own family heroes. This can be captured. You start with one memory and it will unlock many other memories,” she told the first roadshow, which was broadcast live over SimranTV.

The Sunday session will be broadcast live over SikhInside.

In an introduction to the project, Dr Narveen states that for the period ending 1920, for example, the history books state that many Sikhs arrived as police or to work in transport and describes these early settlers as uneducated.

“Little is known or recorded of the arrival of women or men who do not fit in to this military narrative. The reasons our ancestors migrated and their experiences of making Malaysia their home vary greatly.

“The aim of this project is to collect and share this diversity within the community and to celebrate the challenges and adversity our forefathers (and foremothers) overcame to get here and to build lives here. Subsequent phases will aim to collect memories of the British colonial period, World War II, Independence, The Emergency and up to the present day,” she writes.



[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website:]



  1. How can i get in touch with Dr. Narveen? She interviewed my Dad recently on the subject and had misplaced her contact number.
    Thank you

  2. There is a Prof Manjit Singh who is already writing a book on the early Sikh’s in Malaysia.
    my dad who is 86 now is also being featured in this book.

  3. SS Rajula, SS Chiddabraam, SS State of Madras are some of the later ships that plied the routes between 1950 to 1970s.The East Indian Trading company plied many other ships, some of which were lost in the second world war between Calcutta and Penang.One of the earlier was sunk by the German off somewhere near Penang in the first world war.The British library holds most of the original manifests,records and names of the earlier ships.

    I managed to read through some of these some years back, and made some notes.Made many interesting discoveries.

    Sikh migration to Malaya, Burma and Singapore starts long before the commonly believed dates of 1869-1874.

    The Sikh migration to Shanghai begins from 1851-when the first Loodhiana Sikh regiment arrived to take part in the later years of the opium wars.

    Earlier than that records clearly point that a group of 50 Sikhs, led by an Australian planter, Mr McCoy passed through Penang and Singapore by ship to work on his plantations in Queensland, near Woolgoolga.

    The general belief that Sikh migration took place after the British had conquered the Sikh Raj, is incorrect.Sikh migration had definitely began earlier than 1836.It is a matter for deeper research to identify through the shipping manifests and records at points of departure of Sikhs.Calcutta was very much the main point.In later years some Sikhs began travelling via by Madras, which very much became the common norm by 1963 onwards.

    Sikhs did not simply come as the lawmen, many came as business men, others in search of business and other livelihood opportunities.

    The old North South trunk road was built largely by Sikh contractors and workers.My father sahib Sr Arjan Singh was heavily involved in plying the first lorries between Butterworth and Kuala Kangsar.He used to tell stories of incidents, some funny , that took place between Butterworth and Kuala Kangsar between 1920 and 1933, when he drove one of these lorries, later sat up a Bus company in Kulim.He was very knowledgebale of some waterfalls that are seen from road.As a young child we used to sometimes stop and be led to the waterfalls for picnic on the way to Ipoh, around the Padang Rengas, Sungai Siput area.

    Records found do indicate that a shortlived Chinese Lanfang republic in the Sinkiang and West Kalimantan of Borneo, attempted to negotiate with two Sikhs to set up a Sikh Army unit to defend them against the Dutch colonilists, 1n 1828.This is the earliest record of Sikh presence in South east Asia, where it certainly appears individual Sikhs had began their journies into this region, by 1828.

    Long before the fall of the Sikh Raj, the current Punjab and Haryana, bar some small area of Southern Majha and Northern Doaba tracts were already under the British rule for about 25 years.The entire area of Malva was under the British and these regions never formed part of the Sikh Raj.

    The Sikh raj covered more or less the current Pakistani Punjab.Many Sikhs today do not understand nor realise this factual aspect of history.The current Punjab was never part of the Sikh raj.

    This is one of the reason, why initial Sikh arrival in Malaysia was very much regionally affected and divided.The Sikhs of the Khalsa Raj, felt the Sikhs of the British occupied regions did not arise against the British, in 1848 and 1849.

    This is a case very similar to the Indian mutiny-where few believe it was for Indian Independence, but traditionally most are of the opinion, it was simply an act of rebellion against the British authorities,which it very much was, a very localised action, around Meerut.

  4. I would like to get my hands on the passenger manifests of ships that played between india and Malaysia that brought these Punjabi immigrants to Malaysia. Where do I start ??