Malay settlement have traditionally been established at river mouths, on stretches of beach or along roads or highways. Towns typically sprung up where there administrative of commercial centers, many of the residents were immigrants brought in to perform labor. There are also plantation-style settlements.

Since historical times, every Malay village came under the leadership of a penghulu (village chief), who has the power to hear civil matters in his village. A Malay village typically contains a "masjid" (mosque) or "surau" (Muslim chapel), paddy fields and Malay houses on stilts. Malay and Indonesian villagers practice the culture of helping one another as a community, which is better known as "joint bearing of burdens" (gotong royong), as well as being family-oriented — -especially the concept of respecting one's family, particularly the parents and elders—courtesy and believing in God ("Tuhan") as paramount to everything else.

It is common to see a cemetery near the mosque, as all Muslims in the Malay or Indonesian village want to be prayed for, and to receive Allah's blessings in the afterlife. While in Sarawak and East Kalimantan, some villages are called 'long', primarily inhabited by the Orang Ulu.


A kampong is traditional Malay water village, where many homes are built on poles over rivers and waterways. A traditional kampong consists of 20 or 30 thatch- or zinc-roofed wooden huts set on stilts around an estuary or river. The residents are typically fishermen or rice farmers. Many of the fishermen caught fish with traps and dried them. Houses were often set among orchard crops, with rice fields outside the village boundaries. Kampongs typically didn’t have any public buildings other than a small mosque.

In Malaysia, the term kampung (sometimes spelling kampong) in the English language has been defined specifically as "a Malay hamlet or village in a Malay-speaking country". In other words, a kampung is defined today as a village in Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. In Malaysia, a kampung is determined as a locality with 10,000 or fewer people. [Source: Wikipedia]

The term "kampong" is one of many Malay words to have entered common usage in Malaysia and Singapore. Locally, the term is frequently used to refer to either one's hometown or a rural village, depending on context. There are only a few kampong villages remaining in Singapore, mostly on islands surrounding Singapore such as Pulau Ubin. In the past, there were many kampung villages in Singapore but now there aren't many on the mainland.

The residents of Sabah's kampongs don't have to pay taxes because their housed are not built on land. Instead they are built on stilts over tidal flats. Some are shacks. Others are more elaborates dwelling with porches and gardens. Most have electricity and water but no plumbing. At low tide the muddy flats are exposed and they are filled with trash and not very attractive.

Homes in Malaysia

A typical Malaysian home has a tiled floor and louvered windows trimmed with heavy curtains. A typical window of a Malay house with slanted wooden panels that can be adjusted for ventilation. Most Malay houses are built as Rumah Panggung ("stage houses") on stilts. Traditional houses in northern Malaysia are adorned with distinctive carved panels.

Malay houses (Malay: Rumah Melayu) are traditional dwellings, originating before the arrival of foreign or modern influences, and constructed by the indigenous ethnic Malay of the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. Traditional architectural forms, such as tropically-suited roofs and harmonious proportions with decorative elements are considered by traditionalists to still have relevance. [Source: Wikipedia]

Using renewable natural materials including timber and bamboo, the dwellings are often built without the use of metal including nails. Instead pre-cut holes and grooves are used to fit the timber elements into one another, effectively making it a ‘prefabricated house’. Although nails had been invented and in later houses used minimally for non-structural elements (for example, windows or panels), structural flexibility was a benefit which nailing inhibited. Without nails, a timber house could be dismantled and reconstructed in a new location. Most of the ancient Malay peoples of South-East Asia maintained a form of self-regenerating environmental culture.

Traditional timber houses incorporated design principals relevant in contemporary architecture such as shading and ventilation, qualities present in the basic house features. Although Malay houses have diversity of styles according to each states, provinces, and sub-ethnics, there are common style and similarities shared among them: 1) Built on stilts; 2) Have stairs; 3) Partitioned rooms; 4) Vernacular roof; 5) adorned with decorations

Traditional buildings require significant maintenance compared to modern construction. Problems that have to be dealt with: namely how to preserve wooden materials from the decaying effect of tropical weather as well as termite problems. These traditional skills are gradually being lost as Malaysia becomes more modernized.

Traditional Architecture in Malaysia

Traditional Malay architecture employs sophisticated architectural processes ideally suited to tropical conditions such as structures built on stilts, which allow cross-ventilating breeze beneath the dwelling to cool the house whilst mitigating the effects of the occasional flood. High-pitched roofs and large windows not only allow cross-ventilation but are also carved with intricate organic designs. Traditional houses in Negeri Sembilan were built of hardwood and entirely free of nails. They are built using beams, which are held together by wedges. A beautiful example of this type of architecture can be seen in the Old Palace of Seri Menanti in Negeri Sembilan, which was built around 1905. [Source: Malaysia Government Tourism]

Today, many Malay or Islamic buildings incorporate Moorish design elements as can be seen in the Islamic Arts Museum and a number of buildings in Putrajaya - the new administrative capital, and many mosques throughout the country. Moorish architecture hails from North Africa and Spain. Characteristic elements include muqarnas, horseshoe arches, voussoirs, domes, crenellated arches, lancet arches, ogee arches, courtyards, and decorative tile work.

In Malaysia, Chinese architecture is of two broad types: traditional and Baba-Nyonya. Examples of traditional architecture include Chinese temples found throughout the country such as the Cheng Hoon Teng that dates back to 1646. Many old houses especially those in Melaka and Penang are of Baba-Nyonya heritage, built with indoor courtyards and beautiful, colourful tiles.

With most of Malaysian Hindus originally from Southern India, local Hindu temples exhibit the colourful architecture of that region. Built in the late nineteenth century, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur is one of the most ornate and elaborate Hindu temples in the country. The detailed decorative scheme for the temple incorporates intricate carvings, gold embellishments, hand-painted motifs and exquisite tiles from Italy and Spain. The Sikhs, although a small minority, also have their temples of more staid design in many parts of the country.

Two unique architectural highlights of the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak are longhouses and water villages. Homes to interior riverine tribes, longhouses are traditional community homes. These elongated and stilted structures, often built of axe-hewn timber, tied with creeper fibre and roofed with woven atap or thatched leaves, can house between 20 to 100 families. Rustic water villages built on stilts are also commonly found along riverbanks and seafronts. Houses are linked by plank walkways with boats anchored on the sides. Transport around the village is usually by sampan or canoe.

Malaysian Architecture and Climate

In their paper “Malaysian Architectural Identity,” Wan Sharizatul Suraya and Wan Mohd Rashdi wrote: “In hot and wet climate country, spaciousness and wind orientation are essential design considerations as these allow ventilation in designing a building, referring to Malaysian traditional house, long overhangs, large and many windows, screens, and high pitched roofs are elements resulting comfort and ease of the residents. [Source: Wan Sharizatul Suraya bt Wan Mohd Rashdi, Malaysian Architectural Identity, April 11, 2013]

“The basic concept demands that direct sunshine and heat be kept out, as much the rain. Roof are often steeply pitched to facilitate water drainage and to provide a large, ventilated roof space below which allows warm air to dissipate and the building to keep cool. Large overhangs prevent rain from entering, offer sun shading, and reduce unwanted glare.

The Salinger House has wide overhanging roof eaves to protect windows from sun and rain. Multi paneled, fenestration carvings or louvres are designed to encourage air movements, and gaps under the roof also allowing air to enter the house.

Kampong Houses

The main characteristic of a typical Malay kampung house is its on stilts or piles. This was to avoid wild animals and floods, to deter thieves, and for added ventilation. In Sumatra, traditionally stilted houses are designed in order to avoid dangerous wild animals, such a snakes and tiger. While in areas located close to big rivers of Sumatra and Borneo, the stilts help to elevated house above flood surface. In parts of Sabah, the number of dowry buffaloes could even depend on the number of stilts there are in the bridal family’s home. [Source: Wikipedia]

The traditional Malay house require stairs to reach the elevated interior. Usually the stairs connected the land front of the house to the serambi (porch or verandah). Additional stairs might be found on back of the house. The stairs can be made of wood or brick structure covered with tiles. For example, in Malacca and Riau the staircase is always decoratively moulded and colourfully tiled.

Traditional villages generally consist of closely-clustered houses situated along well-protected stretches of shoreline. They are often built directly over the sea in channels or tidal shallows, often behind a fringing reef. Household are often grouped in clusters of related kin with their own chief. The houses are often built near of nipa near mangrove forests, where residents work as thatch- and woodcutters. Large clusters are often organized around a mosque. Schools, mosques and clinics are usually located inland. Some villages are entirely on land and even built somewhat inland.

Houses are raised on piles one to three meters above the high water mark or the ground and are usually comprised of a single room attached to a kitchen, often a room without a roof where various chores are performed.. Those of poor people are typically constructed of split bamboo and have thatched roofs. Many are poorly constructed and too small to allow a person to stand up straight. Those belonging to wealthier families have timber walls and floods, corrugated metal roofing and have additional sleeping rooms. House built over the water are connected by catwalks.

Parts of Traditional Malay House

The interior of a traditional Malay house are partitioned to create rooms such as serambi (verandah), living room, and bedrooms. A traditional Malay timber house usually in two parts: the main house called Rumah Ibu in honour of the mother (ibu) and the simpler Rumah Dapur or kitchen annex, which was separated from the main house for fire protection. Proportion was important to give the house a human scale. The Rumah Ibu was named after the spacings between stilts which are said to typically follow the arms-spread width of the wife and mother in the family of the house when being built. At least one raised veranda (serambi) is attached to the house for seated work or relaxation, or where non-familiar visitors would be entertained, thus preserving the privacy of the interior.

The roof of traditional Malay houses are designed to provides shades and protection from heat and rain, as well as to provides ventilation. The basic design of Malay roof is gabled roof, with somehow extended roof frame forming ornaments on the edge of the roof. The vernacular Malay roof is best suited for hot and humid tropical climate. The modern government and public buildings often based on Malay style roof design, such as government buildings in Riau and Jambi, as well as the roof design of Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur.

Each Malay region, state or sub-ethnic groups has its own regional or group style of house with preferred details. However most of Malay houses have a typical roof ornament, a crossed roof edge structure forming "x"-like pinnacle ornament on the edge of the roof. This kind of ornament can be found in Lontik, Lipat Kajang and Limas styles. In Peninsular Malaysia’s east coast, many houses have distinctive carved roof gable-end boards akin to those in Thailand and Cambodia.

Types: 1) Rumah Limas - Predominantly found in Palembang, Riau, Johor, Malacca, Pahang, Terengganu and Selangor; 2) Rumah Lipat Kajang or Rumah Kejang Lako - Predominantly found in Jambi and Riau; 3) Rumah Malacca - Predominantly found at Johor and Malacca; 4) Rumah Lancang or Rumah Lontik - Predominantly found in Riau Kampar Regency; 5) Rumah Belah Bubung - Predominantly found in Riau Islands; 6) Rumah Kutai - Predominantly found in Perak and northern Selangor, based from Kutai architecture; 7) Rumah Perabung Lima - Predominantly found in Kelantan and Terengganu; 8) Rumah Gajah Menyusu - Predominantly found in Penang; 9) Rumah Tiang Dua Belas - Predominantly found in Kelantan, Terengganu and Pattani; 10) Rumah Bumbung Panjang - Predominantly found in Kedah, Perlis, Perak, Selangor, Johor and Pahang; 11) Rumah Air - Predominantly found in Brunei and Labuan; 12) Rumah Berbumbung Lima - Predominantly found in Bengkulu.

A typical Malaysian home is furnished with cushioned chairs organized around the walls and an ornate display cabinet topped with family photos, kitschy art and silk flowers. Air conditioning has become popular in recent years. Malaysia make its own air conditioners. Even so many villages homes don’t have air conditioner. There are not even fans when the temperature is over a 90°.


In old days there was a lack of general supply of electricity, running water and sewage system in most kampongs. On kampong life in the 1960s, Nurfitri Kasman of North View Secondary School wrote: “ Kampong kids(boys in particular) love to catching fish in drains or ‘longkang’, digging for earthworms, catching toads, tortoises and any other small or tiny animals to add to their collections. Another favourite hobby of the kampong kids were chasing the chickens all over the place and playing in the rain. Not only that, they will also invent games with their surroundings such as chongkak, chapteh, five stones, gasing(also known as spinning tops) and goli panjang(aiming at the marbles on the ground). [Source:Nurfitri Kasman, 16, 2E1, April 7, 2007, North View Secondary School]

“Not to forget, the adults have their own hobby of watching the wayang in the open-air as not many could afford a black and white television. The adults will also grow durians, rambutans and many other kinds of fruit trees. During the harvesting, if a family has excess food, they will give the excess food to their neighbours. The most interesting part of living in a kampong was that it’s very safe as everyone knew every other person and thus, they look out for one another.

“In a kampong, the people were not rich enough to have an individual pipe and sewage systems. Thus, they share everything together. There was only one small hut toilet with just a hole in the center. In the hole, there will be a container where all the waste landed and every evening, a man, who earns a living by doing this job, will collect the container and replace a new one. As for bathing, there was only one small government pipe where everyone does laundry and collects water. If not, the villagers have to collect water from the well or from rainwater.

“As for my mother, her kampong was located at Jalan Udaya and the kampong was a multi-racial village. Fortunately, almost all the people in the kampong knew how to speak the Malay language and thus, this allows them to communicate with each other without any problems at all. There were also not many schools located in the village itself and majority of the schools were located far away. But not many kampong kids go to school as their parents could not afford to send them. Due to favouritism years ago, those parents who can afford only sent their boys to school while the girls stay at home to help their parents with the household chores.”

According to singaporekampong.blogspot: Have you ever wondered how people bathed in the kampong? Of course, you cannot expect running water or the private bath. More often than not, you have to bathe in the open. At least, you won't be bathing in the cold air and get a chill. [Source: singaporekampong.blogspot . June 15, 2008 |+|]

“Bullocks were used as beasts of burden, and performed many functions, including to transport timber to factories or sawmills. Indians used some bullocks to do grass cutting. Remember the old folks in the kampong. They used the bullock carts to carry heavy things. But strangely enough, bullock carts were also used in the old days to transport water around Chinatown. Most of the bullock carts were stationed along Kreta Ayer Road, hence its Malay name. Chinatown in Singapore was also referred to as "bullock carts carrying water." Indian convicts brought into Singapore to do hard labour in 1825 were given bullocks as incentives for good behaviour, upon the completion of their penal sentence in Singapore. |+|

“A fishing kampong scene in the east coast of Singapore in 1940 shows the drying of fishes with a background of coconut trees. True, the beach and sea and the boats are still there, but the attap huts, the way the fishing folks wore and work, the smell of fishes in the air - they have all gone with the passage of time. More remarkable is the crescent-shaped formation of the fishing folks hauling up the fishing nets and re-arranging them.” |+|

Typical Kampong

Kampong Lorong Buangkok, established in 1956, has a mixture of Chinese and Malay residents living in harmony. There are about 28 single-storey zinc-roof houses here, on a landsize roughly equaled to three football fields. The land belongs to the Sng family, who lives here among the residents and collects only small tokens from the other families as rental fees. [Source: Remember Singapore, April 4, 2012]

Hidden in a small stretch off Yio Chu Kang Road, the forgotten hamlet has a rustic and rural environment filled with plants of tapioca, papaya, guava and yam. It is not uncommon to see lizards or squirrels scurrying past the dirt roads, or find guppies swimming in the nearby Sungei Punggol, where part of it has now become a canal. Since 2000, the kampong’s surrounding has already changed tremendously. High-rise flats at Buangkok Green and Fernvale, and a newly constructed jogging track, have now encircled Kampong Lorong Buangkok.

Malay Kampongs

According to Remember Singapore: “At the tip of northern Punggol, where the Punggol Jetty is located, once existed a Malay kampong called Kampong Punggol. It was settled by the families of the fishermen who plied their trade at Sungei Dekar. The kampong was believed to be more than 200 years old. [Source: Remember Singapore, April 4, 2012 ++]

“Flanked by two rivers in Sungei Punggol and Sungei Serangoon, there were also many fishermen living near the river banks. A Teochew Kangkar Village was once located at the end of Upper Serangoon Road, near the mouth of the Serangoon River where it was filled with fishing boats and sampans. It the kampong there was a bustling wholesale fish market. ++

“In 1993, Kampung Wak Selat was thrown into the media spotlight when the government insisted the demolition of the Malay village of about 70 houses. Established in 1947 and consisted of facilities such as water supply, a football ground, a prayer house and a simple wooden mosque, the kampong was located along the former Malayan railway tracks between Kranji Road and Sungei Mandai Besar. Most of the residents chose to move and live in the nearby Marsiling housing estate. Today, it is replaced by a JTC (Jurong Town Corporation) factory. ++

“A coastal Malay kampong near the Causeway, Kampong Lorong Fatimah struggled to exist until 1989, when the land was needed for the extension of the Woodlands Checkpoint. Before the construction of Woodlands New Town in 1972, this kampong was seemingly isolated from the rest of Singapore as it was sandwiched between the Johor Strait and the forested land. In the past, the villagers worked as fishermen and boatmen, ferrying passengers between Johor and Singapore, but the newer generation started to move out of the kampong to work in the developing Woodlands industrial estate. ++

“Other Malay villages in the northern part of Singapore included Kampung Melayu of Woodlands in the 1950s, Kampung Keranji at Kranji and Sungei Kadut Village. Prone to flooding due to high tides, Kampong Sungei Mandai Kechil was a coastal kampong named after the small stream of Sungei Mandai Kechil. ++

“One of the oldest Malay settlements in Singapore, Geylang Serai also functioned as a main trading place for the Malays from Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. In the late 19th century, the rich Arabs moved in to cultivate lemon grass plantation but the industry failed to boom, which was later replaced by rubber plantations and vegetable farms. The villagers also started planting tapioca (ubi in Malay) during the Second World War, leading to the naming of Kampong Ubi, part of Geylang Serai. ++

“Kampong Melayu was a large self-sufficient Malay village that stretched from the borders of Geylang to Jalan Eunos, where a smaller kampong called Jalan Eunos Village stood. There was a couple of Chinese families living in Kampong Melayu. In the racial riots of 1964, the village was one of the worst hit areas. A huge fire broke out at Kampong Melayu in 1975, destroying several houses and leaving dozens of people homeless. Kampong Melayu’s main religious center was the old Alkaff Mosque.” ++

Chinese Kampongs

In the colonial period as urban areas became crowded, some residents moved to rural areas, establishing villages and plantations, especially near the mouths of the rivers where the soils were fertile. According to Remember Singapore: “Chinese agricultural settlers set up pepper and gambier plantations along the river banks in the 19th century. The village chief was known as kangchu (the lord of the river). By 1917, the British colonial government decided to abolished the kangchu system due to the influence of some Chinese tycoons, their links to secret societies and the widespread social vices such as gambling, opium and prostitution. The Chinese later moved to set up rubber, pineapple and other plantations. [Source: Remember Singapore, April 4, 2012 ++]

“Nee Soon Village (formerly Chan Chu Kang) was one of the oldest Chinese kampong (pronounced as gum gong in Teochew) in Singapore. It existed as early as 1850, and was later renamed as Nee Soon Village after rubber magnate Lim Nee Soon (1879 – 1936). Other Chinese villages in the Nee Soon district were Bah Soon Bah Village (named after the Baba name of Lim Nee Soon), Hup Choon Kek Village (built in 1930s), Chye Kay Village, Kum Mang Hng Village, Hainan Village, De Lu Shu Village, Kampong Sah Pah Siam and Kampong Telok Soo (or Kampong Kitin). After the collapse of the rubber industry in 1935, the villagers, mostly Hokkiens and Teochews, switched to vegetable and fruit farming, orchid farming, fish and prawn breeding, pineapple and coconut planting and pig and poultry rearing. Most of the residents were resettled in Ang Mo Kio and Tampines when Yishun New Town was developed in 1977. ++

“Heng Ley Pah Village (or fondly called Phua Village) was made up of a group of Hokkiens headed by the Phua clan, whose ancestors came to Singapore in the late 19th century from Nan An County of China. They first settled at Upper Thomson and Yio Chu Kang, before eventually moved to Lorong Handalan (present-day Springleaf estate), Lorong Persatuan and Lorong Sunyi (all three roads were now defunct) in 1914. The kampong became known as Heng Ley Pah, named after a rubber plantation nearby. The Phua clan built a temple known as Hwee San Temple for their religious and social needs, as well as a mandarin primary school called Xing Dun in 1936. The fortune of Heng Ley Pah Village declined in the seventies, and by 1990, most of its residents had moved into Yishun New Town. ++

“The Malay population of the old Nee Soon estate was not particularly large, with some of them living at Kampong Jalan Mata Ayer along Sembawang Road. The villagers built a mosque called Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim that is still standing today, located at Jalan Ulu Seletar. Other villages would be scattered along the coastlines of Sungei Seletar (now Lower Seletar Reservoir), engaging in farming as well as fishing.” ++

Kampong Life in the 1960s

On the kampong life of her mother, Evelyn Chua Sok Huang wrote: “Born in 1955, Madam Sim, spent her first twenty years of her life in a kampong. She comes from a family of seven and she is the second daughter in the family. When the land that they were staying had to be redeveloped, Madam Sim and her family had no choice but to move from the kampong.[Source: Evelyn Chua Sok Huang, /*/]

“The people living in the kampong were all Chinese but from different dialect groups. From her accounts, she mentioned that people were usually poor about forty years ago and so was her family at that time. Her mother was a housewife and her father was a fisherman. Her father usually caught fish and prawns and brought them to sell in the market. Furthermore, she recalled that most of the people living in the kampong, were fisherman as well. /*/

“According to Madam Sim, the kampong in Changi did not have a village head but there was a landlord. Her parents had rent the land space from the landlord and it cost about a few dollars each month at that time. In addition, they had to build their own house by themselves. If there were some families who did not know how to build a house, the other neighbours would lend a helping hand. Here, ‘kampong spirit’ was portrayed and helping one another in the kampong was a common sight. In general, ‘Chinese houses were usually rectangular or square and built on earthen platforms, or sometimes on cement of brick foundations’ As for Madam Sim’s house, it was square and built on cement flooring. Her family which was poor, lived in an attap house with only two bedrooms and a living room. /*/

“In fact, the kampong that she lived in was quite big. It consisted about fifty households and they were quite evenly spread out. Based on Madam Sim’s recollection, there were no electricity and tap water in her kampong. The lack of amenities mentioned by Madam Sim, is common according to published source. She recalled that her father had to dig a well and they used the water from the well for their daily use. It was surprising to hear from her that each family indeed had a well of their own. However, Madam Sim remembered that they only get water supply from the tap when she was about fourteen years old. However, her family still used the water from the well. As ‘electricity was too uncommon in the kampongs’, they used kerosene lamp instead. As for the cooking facilities, Madam Sim recalled the use of firewood. ‘For cooking, we had to get wood’ to set the fire, ‘charcoal was considered very expensive so no one used charcoal for cooking’. /*/

“As for the sanitary facilities, Madam Sim recounted that each household had a toilet of their own which they had built using wooden planks. Then a hole was dug to place the bucket for the collection of faeces. After every two days, the waste material collector would come to collect the faeces. /*/

“Surprisingly, the life of a kampong child was not just about playing. Madam Sim recounted that she did attend school when she was young although her family was poor. Her parents managed to let her finished her primary level education before she quitted school to work, to help to ease the burden of her father’s. She mentioned that it was perhaps that she was not the eldest daughter and thus she still got an opportunity to attend school. However, her eldest sister did not attend school at all. In addition, she said that some children would not attend school if their families were too poor. Furthermore, most girls in the past did not attend school as ‘many people said that girls did not need education’. At that time, people tend to put their priorities on the males rather than the females. Hence, if you were a boy, you would be sent to a school. Yet, Madam Sim recalled that most of the children only studied up to primary two as ‘parents were not very strict about education and many boys played truant. It was very different from the present.’ /*/

“According to Madam Sim, she could still remember that her school’s name was ‘Bedok Zhong Hua Public School’ and in Chinese, it was called ‘Gong Li Zhong Hua Gong Xue’. In fact, the school was just in front of her house and she walked to school in the morning just like most of the other children. She recalled that she had to go ‘as early as 7.30a.m. to attend flag-raising ceremony followed by morning exercise’. It seemed to me that Madam Sim really treasured her schooling days as she could remember clearly every single detail of her schooling moments. What surprised me was that there were no food being sold in the school as it was a boarding school as mentioned by Madam Sim. /*/

“Regarding her relationship with her neighbours, Madam Sim described it as ‘generally ok’. She said that she communicated well with her neighbours and everyone got along well. During her childhood days, she remembered herself playing with children from different households. Sometimes, she would watch the boys playing ‘goli panjang’. This is a common kampong game according to published source. However, Madam Sim mentioned that she still preferred to play outside her attap house and walked around to look out for ripe fruits on the trees. Occasionally, she would help to rear chickens, ducks and pigs to pass her time. /*/

“Furthermore, Madam Sim recalled that there were only ‘black and white’ televisions at that time and her house did not have one as they were too poor. She mentioned that only those who were rich could afford to buy a set of television. Madam Sim laughed while mentioning that sometimes she would secretly watch the television programmes from others’ television. Moreover, she also said that there was no community centre. /*/

Oral History of a Kampong Dweller

Madam Sim said: “I lived in a kampong since I was born. My family was poor. Forty years ago, people were normally poor. I lived in an attap house. There were no electricity and water. We had to dig a well and used the water from our wells. There was no electricity but we used kerosene lamps instead...Every household had a well. [Source: Evelyn Chua Sok Huang, /*/]

“I have five brothers and sisters. My father caught fish as a living. My mother did not work at that time. She was a housewife. We lived near the sea. Most of the people, who lived in our kampong, were fishermen...After they caught the fish and prawns, they will bring them to sell in the market. Every household lived by themselves. Some of them have several children while some have fewer children. Everyday, we ran about and played together after we woke up. /*/

There was no village head. “There is only a landlord. We rent the land space from him and built our own house. It cost about a few dollars each month at that time. We rent the land from the landlord. We lived in an attap house. Some people who knew how to build their house would build their houses by themselves. Those who do not know, would ask help from other neighbours to build the house. /*/

There were about fifty households. “They were not closely located together but a distance away. There was no water supply from the tap when I was young. It was only when I was about fifteen or sixteen years old, then we had water supply from the tap. Previously, we only used water from the well. We used firewood for cooking. Charcoal was too expensive. We built our own toilets using wooden planks. Then a hole was dug to place the bucket for the collection of faeces. The waste material collector would come to collect the faeces every two days. It was inaccessible to go to the city. I had to walk quite a distance along Changi Road to take a bus to reach the city. /*/

“My school is just in front of my house. Hence, I walked to school in the morning if I had classes. However, there was no food sold in the school as it was also a boarding school at that time. I only studied till primary six. I did not continue my studies as my family was poor. Some children went to school but some don’t. If their parents had the money, they would be sent to school. They would not have attended school if their parents were poor. Most of the girls did not go to school. People in the past put their priorities on males rather than females. If you were a boy, you would be sent to a school. However, if you were a girl, it didn’t matter if you did not have any education. Some of them studied up to secondary level while others studied up to primary level. In fact, some children only studied up to primary two. /*/

What did you do after you stop schooling? I went to work. I did odd jobs. My salary was cheap, only two dollars a day. I walked to work and back from work. I walked till the midway of Changi Road and my factory was there. /*/

What would you do in the kampong during your free time? I would help to rear chickens, ducks and pigs. Was there a television in your house at that time? No. Not when I was young. You would have television in your house if you were rich. If you were poor, you would not have a television. In the past, there were only black and white televisions. Only people who were very rich would buy a television set. My family did not have a television set but we secretly ran to watch the television programmes from other people’s television. What about your neighbours? No. They did not have a television as well. I had to walk about sixteen households away, and then there was a household that had a television. /*/

“When I was young, living in the kampong was safer. For example, we didn’t lock our doors. We left the doors open all the time. I used to play outside my attap house and look out for fruits on the trees. When they were ripe, I would pluck and eat them. All these were not found in the HDB [high-rise apartment]. I still preferred to live in a kampong. The air is fresher and I would grow some fruit trees. Living in the HDB flat, there is nothing and everything has to be brought with money. Of course, I feel more stressful living in a HDB flat. Living in the HDB flat, the flat needed money and everything needed money too whereas living in the kampong, the living expenses are not so high.” So, can I say that you still prefer to live in the kampong? “Yes. That’s right!” /*/

Loss of Kampong Spirit and Kampong Demolition

According to Remember Singapore: “Community, or kampong, spirit is lost when more people coop themselves up in their own flats nowadays, and interaction with neighbours become a rarity. Children of the newer generation have also lost the chance to come in contact with nature; many of them probably have not seen a live rooster in their life. ++ [Source: Remember Singapore, April 4, 2012]

“Khatib Bongsu was the most recent kampong to be demolished, in 2007. It was situated in the forested area at Yishun, near the mouth of Sungei Khatib. The land had been designated to be military training ground by the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) since the early nineties, but many residents of the kampong were reluctant to shift. By late 2006, there were only two persistent residents left at Khatib Bongsu. ++

“During its heydays, there were numerous zinc-roof houses at Khatib Bongsu, artificial ponds used for prawn rearing and wooden jetties built by the river. Some villagers used to rent generators to power their electrical appliances and collect rainwater for washing purposes. The daily meals were simple cooked with the fish and prawns caught from the waters, or a 30-minute ride by bicycle to the nearest kopitiam at the modernised Yishun. ++

Malaysia’s Transformation a Rural Country to an Urban One

In recent years Malaysia has morphed from a largely agricultural country to an urban one. Urbanization: urban population: 72 percent of total population (2010); rate of urbanization: 2.4 percent annual rate of change (2010-15 est.). Major cities - population: Kuala Lumpur (capital) 1.493 million; Klang 1.071 million; Johor Bahru 958,000 (2009). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

In the 1920s around 90 percent of the population worked the land. Today the figure is only about 10 percent. Most villages have electricity, telephones and televisions and are connected by paved roads.

Malaysia Bans Hillside Developments after Landslide

In December 2008, the Malaysian government banned hillside developments after a weekend landslide in suburban Kuala Lumpur killed four people and forced thousands to evacuate. "I am sure this will incur the wrath of individual land owners and developers but enough is enough," Prime Minister Abdullah said, according to Sunday's Star, ordering current projects to be frozen while soil tests are carried out. "Future projects will also not go on to prevent any further worsening of the soil conditions at the hilly area," he told the daily after a series of landslides in northeastern Kuala Lumpur. [Source: AFP, December 7, 2008]

AFP reported: “The latest disaster hit early Saturday, burying 14 houses at the upmarket estate of Bukit Antarabangsa, cutting off access for thousands of residents and disrupting water, electricity and phone lines. Among the four dead was a 20-year-old who was found by his father buried under the rubble still clutching a mobile phone, the Star reported. One person is reportedly still missing. Police ordered 3,000 to 5,000 residents living nearby to evacuate their homes.

"Malaysians never want to learn from past experiences. They want good views while developers only seek to profit ... no one takes safety and soil stability into consideration," the prime minister said. "We will be courting more tragedies if we do not care and protect hillsides," he said. Opposition parliamentarian Lim Kit Siang accused the government of "sheer criminal negligence" over the incident. He said in a statement that officials bore responsibility for "closing an eye to dangerous hillside developments and in totally ignoring the lessons of the Highland Towers tragedy 15 years ago."

Selangor police chief Khalid Abu Bakar ordered residents from a condominium tower located near the landslide site to evacuate immediately, fearing it "may collapse at any time," the state Bernama news agency reported.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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