All along the coastlines of Malaysia, at the mouths of rivers, early immigrants arrived with hopes of making a living. They found landowners willing to rent them land, tin-mine tycoons who would give them jobs, and towns and cities in need of services. They also found a local population that paid homage to elders, advisors and spiritual leaders, even at their grave sites. This form of ancestor worship was quite attractive to the Chinese who quickly adapted to local practices. “Datuk” comes from the Malay word for grandfather or one who provides.
Many shrines and temples are home to more than one Datuk. In the small shrines on the roadside you see 1-3-5-7. In this image I took my own 5 Datuks with me to Kuala Kurau and lined them up on the river bank. Kuala Kurau was a very important place for the arrival of newcomers from Fujian in the nineteenth century. There would have been many important Malays in the area, including the Sultan, who would have provided assistance for their new life in this new land. There were many helpers and observers when I took my Datuks out of the car for this portrait session!