Discovering my heritage

I know, I know. It’s been a while since I last posted. A lot has happened just last week alone. The passing of my paternal grandmother, marks the inevitable phase of our lives where we no longer have our elders with us. I lost my paternal grandfather at a very young age and I barely knew him. My grandmother was able to live with me and my family¬†for 4 years and I am grateful that my 6-year old son got to know his great-grandmother. I don’t know how many children his age get to experience that. What I discovered about my paternal grandparents after the funeral was even more intriguing than I could imagine. I love studying about history but I was never ever keen to look into mine. Long story short, its just too much drama. I grew up believing that I was mainly of Javanese descent. Until my uncle told me otherwise. It all started after the funeral that I asked my uncle just one simple question. I wanted to know the real name of my grandmother as I was aware that she had somewhat changed/shorten it. It was then my uncle started to tell me the story of the origins of my grandparents’ heritage that just completely shocked me. I wasn’t prepared to listen to all that as I had not slept the night before keeping vigil. So I wasn’t exactly in the right frame of mind to listen to a history lecture.

I discovered that my paternal grandmother was not Arab as I was thought she was. She was of Burmese and Turkish descent. She was born in Pahang, Malaysia and her full name was Engku Siti Sharifah Zaharah Binte Syed Sheikh Mahmud Al-(this last name is unclear). When she was born, she received the royal hereditary Malay title of ‘Engku’ which is equivalent to a princess. Her mother was Burmese and goes by the name Wok Kelat Rendang. It sounded similar to her Burmese name. My late grandmother had shorten her name and dropped her royal title when she lived in Singapore.

According to my uncle, my late grandmother’s life in Singapore began when she and her family escaped in a ship bound for Singapore. They were misinformed to believed that they will be safe if they relocated to Singapore to escape from the Japanese. Instead, when they reached Singapore, the Japanese launched their attack on the island shortly after.

My late grandfather however, is of Javanese and Dutch heritage and he was from Solo Central Java. He was born with a Javanese royal hereditary title of Raden. His full name was Raden Mohayat Bin Raden Haji Jabbar. His mother (my great grandmother) was Kian Binte Simon Van Holsen Abdullah. I didn’t find out anything more from my uncle as I was just so overwhelmed at that time.

It has been really interesting to discover these information about my family history. It took me a few days just to process it. I am now quite intrigued to find out more about my late grandparents and how the events in Singapore during those tumultuous period in history affected them. How did they meet? How did they survived World War 2 in Singapore?

My paternal grandparents. Photo taken during the mid-70s in Malaysia.