The other side of MalaysiaJune 20, 2016
By Lloyd Green
Like in any country, life away from the city is different. In rural Malaysia, village or kampung life is another beast. The Malays and Orang Asli here still practice their traditions, maintaining the old lifestyle of their people. It is completely different from the lifestyle in the city and you can see how different their life is.
To the locals it is more than just a home; it is a community where history and heritage lives on. From food, ceremonies and rituals to their connection and dependence on the land, there’s a sense of belonging — one not often found in the city.
Kampung life is sustained by agriculture; rice fields, fruit plantations, fishing and other types of farming. The family home in the kampung is well-kept and blends in with the surrounds of the village. Rambutan and rubber trees line the pathways with other types of vegetation providing shade from the harsh elements.
These shaded compounds are favourite places for school-yard games and social interaction as well as working areas. Attap and mat-weaving, drying, rice-pounding and carpentry are some of the common duties carried out. The space underneath each stilted house is also used to store food, fuel, building materials, farming equipment, bicycles and even cars.
Dense bushland and forest occupies the area surrounding these villages, with the echoes of children enjoying the cool waters of nearby rivers a welcome relief from the persistent horns of the city.
Our driver had turned down a narrow, sandy path past some neighbouring compounds, shacks and gardens, via the large lake that formed the focus of the kampung and towards a traditional styled home that stood resplendent between the trees. The 150-year-old structure had been given a splash of colour and was vibrant in pink and green.
We followed our guide past more wooden huts and through a muddy swamp until we found our night’s accommodation: A bamboo hut on the bank of the river, equipped with veranda and scenic views. The hospitality we received that night and in the morning was overwhelming.
Dozens of banana plantations dominate the valley. Pak Angah, a well known farmer show us his property. He sells each comb of his bananas for just over RM1. It’s enough to make around 300 ringgit per month.
His children often accompany him in the picking of the bananas, as well as friends in the village. Much of the village operates this way. The husband leaves early in the morning to work on the land and the mother stays at home with the young children.
The kampung is eerily quiet during the day until the roaring engine of the school bus returns in the afternoon. Swarms of teenagers rush through the village yelling, running and laughing — their mothers often scolding at them to return home.
The roads here connecting the kampungs to the highway vary in quality. At night and during rainy season they can be quite dangerous. One particular section of road we took was diabolical at best. Not only did we have to navigate the large rocks and deep ruts, but also the twenty minutes’ of torrential rain, mud and steepness.
At least the ceremony we’d attend would be worth it. A fellow traveller best describes the events that unfolded:
“The ceremony is held in an enclosed dewan, which is much like my longhouse: made of split bamboo flooring and thatched bamboo walls, with rough tree trunk beams and a grass roof. From the ceiling hang bunches of broad green leaves.”
“From the darkness, one of the men chants the first line of his prayer, weaving his words to the beat of the bamboo. The women answer his prayer, repeating the line in unison, all the while making the beautiful percussive music with the bamboo. The man chants again, the chorus of women answer. Chant, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. Answer, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. And on and on. It is intoxicating.” ~~ Joe Byrnes.
It’s this one ceremony that best explains kampung life. The simplicity of the people and the traditions they uphold make life out here very special.