SINGAPORE - A new Hainanese community organisation was launched on Monday (Dec 23), even as one of its founders took the first step to resolve a high-profile spat between clan leaders in the community.
Kheng Chiu Tin Hou Kong and Burial Ground (THK) chairman Foo Jong Peng struck a conciliatory tone as he launched the new Hainan Federation, which will conduct cultural activities for the Hainanese community, during a dinner to celebrate the THK's 166th anniversary.
The THK has been embroiled in a legal dispute with the Hainan Hwee Kuan clan association since September over the control of financial assets managed by the THK.
The split was punctuated by a series of incidents at a building in Beach Road seen as the home of the Hainanese community, including the replacement in August of a sign reading "Hainan Hwee Kuan" in Mandarin with one that read "Kheng Chiu Building" instead.
"A lot of people have asked me whether I am willing to talk terms with the Hwee Kuan. I am, so long as there is a new leadership that is willing as well," said Mr Foo in Mandarin.
"The Hainan Federation is not meant to come into conflict with any existing organisation... We hope we can co-exist."
He also welcomed the Hwee Kuan to return to the Beach Road building, where the association has allegedly been barred from holding activities since last November.
Mr Foo applied to register the federation with the Registry of Societies last September. He is among the federation's 20 co-founders, who also include THK directors and businessmen.
In September, Hainan Hwee Kuan president Phua Kiah Mai applied to the Supreme Court to wind up the THK, a company limited by guarantee.
This was to allow the clan association to have direct control of the financial assets currently being managed by the THK.
Mr Phua has also accused the THK of reneging on a promise to fund the clan association, based on a 2007 document signed by both the THK and the association.
When contacted, Mr Phua maintained that he felt that the new federation was a move to split the Hainanese community.
The new federation will allow Hainanese to be members even if they do not have any birth records from their parents to prove that they are of Hainanese lineage, provided two Hainanese members in the federation support their application.
Mr Foo said the federation was distinct from the Hwee Kuan as it would admit people from other Chinese dialect groups and even other races who are interested in Hainanese culture.
Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) president Tan Aik Hock said he was encouraged by Mr Foo's positive remarks at the dinner.
"At the end of the day, each of us are just passers-by in the long history of the respective Chinese clans in Singapore and it is our duty to pass on this rich legacy to the next generation properly," said Mr Tan.
"We hope the differing views from the two leaders can be resolved amicably and for the Hainanese community to stand united once more."