"PLEASE don’t confuse us with the Chettiars. They are moneylenders and we are the traders who came here in the 14th Century." So pleads Chitty village elder V. Ramasamy Pillai.
"After all these years, more than 600 years to be precise, Malaysians are still unable to differentiate between Chittys and Chettiars," he says smiling and shaking his head.
History books and Ramasamy, 83, will tell you that the Chittys are actually Indian traders who came to the Malacca in the early 1400s from the southern part of India, namely Kalinga in the Corromendal Coast, during the days of the spice trade.
Many married local women, adopted the cultures and languages of the region while retaining their own religion – Hinduism.
Seafaring Chitty traders went on to become farmers and settled down in many parts of Malacca, eventually moving to Kampung Tujung in Gajah Behrang.
It is in Kampung Tujung where many of the Chittys now live. There are 19 homes amidst three temples and a newly constructed museum that awaits its official opening.When many of the Chittys married and settled in Malacca, they didn’t keep in touch with their families in India, thus making it virtually impossible for their predecessors to trace relatives in Kalinga. While their Indian relatives might be a permanently closed chapter, the Chittys in Malacca are a fascinating group.
Daily but more so on weekends, scores of visitors come to Chitty village. "Most Chittys look like Indians and have made Bahasa Malaysia their official language. Many here only speak Tamil haltingly," says K. Nadarajan Raja, who is secretary of the Cultural Society of Chitty Malacca.
"What we wear differs from our counterparts in India. The Chitty woman usually wears the kebaya panjang or kebaya pendek, depending on her marital status, with a sarong. The handkerchief or binpoh is usually worn on the shoulder like a shawl," he informs.
The men are normally dressed in a dhoti and shirt for religious functions while for traditional events, it is usually the sarong or kain pelekat with the lose Nehru jacket and cap. A piece of colourful cloth is often draped on the left shoulder. As for festivals, the Chittys celebrate all three days of ponggol, the harvest festival in January, and Deepavali on a grand scale.
Temple festivals are also celebrated by following a strict vegetarian diet for 10 days during which the Chittys living elsewhere in the country, congregate in Malacca for the celebrations. One festival celebrated with much ado is the Bhogi Parachu, usually falling in January. Chittys make offerings to ancestors on this day. Chitty delicacies such as pulut tekan/nasi lemak, ginggang and other homemade specials are served then.
On this occasion, nasi lemak is patted down onto banana leaves and salted eggs are embedded in the centre along with raddish. Some 13 other dishes such as fried mutton and chicken, soup and sweets are also placed on the banana leaves.
"This is one festival celebrated in every household in the village. Ancestral worship is very important to us because we want the blessings of our forefathers," says Nadarajan. "It is also a time when everyone in the village visits one another."