Sunday, March 2, 2014

What is a kampung?

For some time, I've been referencing kampungs without fully explaining what they are.  Kampung literally means "village," and as it is an integral part of Malaysian culture and lifestyle, I want to explain exactly what a kampung is and why it is so important to Malaysia.

Kampungs exist in all the states of Malaysia and are usually small, self-sufficient communities. They often depend on agricultural workers and small stores that sell a large variety of products. A kampung typically has less than a few thousand permanent inhabitants of all the different ethnicities in Malaysia; still, since many kampungs are in between major cities like KL and Ipoh, they are used to receiving visitors from all over the country. 

Easily the most distinguishable part of a kampung is the typical kampung house. These houses are very interesting because they appear to be standing on stilts! Basically, wooden columns hold the main structure of the house up a few feet, and stairs lead individuals up into the house. These houses usually have only one story, but they are still large enough to accommodate many people. Friends and family members are encouraged to visit, as life in a kampung can be very quiet and peaceful most of the time.

A model of a kampung house

A real kampung house

Unlike cities, many extended family members will live in the same kampung; sometimes, they will even live in the same house! Because of the development of the Malaysian economy and the employment opportunities found in the cities, many individuals end up moving away from the kampungs to cities like KL and Penang for high-paying jobs and more developed living conditions. For vacations and specific festivals, individuals will frequently return to their ancestors' kampungs, the villages where their ancestors lived and worked. Malays usually balik kampung (return to village) during Hari Raya. Chinese sometimes balik during Chinese New Year and a few other festivals, and Indians balik during Deepavali or Pongal.

I myself have visited kampungs during the course of the last few months. At first, I thought that kampungs were the polar opposites of large cities in Malaysia: unlike cities, kampungs can be remarkably small, with some kampungs having a single dirt path road down the middle of the settlement. Also, while noise is an unavoidable aspect of city life, kampungs are extremely quiet, even during the day. However, both cities and kampungs are extremely important in terms of conveying what Malaysia is truly like: a diverse nation in regard to race, religion, language, festivals, and in this case, lifestyle.

As kampungs are at the center of so many major festivals and celebrations in Malaysia, they are very significant to the people who celebrate these festivals. Kampungs are truly universal among the various groups in Malaysia, as every group has some connection to these unique and colorful villages of Malaysia. Despite their small sizes, these culturally vibrant communities play a large role in defining the country and its people and showing observers the true range and diversity of Malaysia.

Jumpa lagi,

Anirudh

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