They number only about 500 people today. And despite living in a largely Malay surrounding, the Hainanese community here has managed to keep its culture and traditions alive.
Touted as the largest Hainanese village in Malaysia, the settlement located in Kampung Baru Air Jernih, 7km from Kemasik, Terengganu, is believed to have been established more than 110 years ago.
Visitors to the village are intrigued with the rows of double-storey wooden shophouses as one could have been mistaken for being in a small town in China.
The arrival of Bernama journalist and cameraman was warmly received by the residents who are fluent in the Terengganu Malay dialect as well as their Hainanese dialect.
The villagers are mostly third and fourth generation offspring of ancestors who sailed from Hainan island in southern China to settle in Terengganu.
The village’s oldest resident, Kong Hin Eng, 89, said his father came to Terengganu at the age of 16 to plant oil palm and rubber trees.
“Not long after that, he returned to Hainan to marry my mother and they settled in Air Jernih ever since.
“At that time, the thriving village had almost 6,000 people,” he said.
“Over time, villagers began moving out of the place to find work and later settled in places like Klang, Selangor, Tangkak, Johor and Port Dickson in Negri Sembilan.”
The unique shophouses built since 1900 is now a popular location for photographers to capture scenes of yesteryears.
These days, the residents are busy decking up the village with lanterns to welcome the return of their children for the Chinese New Year celebration.
Another senior citizen, Bo Chia Weng, 78, said he is very proud to be able to preserve the culture and traditions of his ancestors such as the food, religious rituals and the Hainanese dialect in the village.
“At the same time, I also love nasi dagang, ketupat pulut, rendang, tapai, keropok lekor and many other traditional Terengganu food as we have many Malay friends.
“We celebrate Chinese New Year and Hari Raya by visiting each other. This has long been practised in the village,” he said.
Another resident, Wan Eei Ton, 42, said during Chinese New Year, there were also wayang kulit performances in the village based on Chinese opera stories.
While many residents have moved out for better prospects, Wan hoped the village would be preserved as a historical site for all to learn and appreciate in future as it is more than 110 years old. — Bernama