The Kampongs in Malaysia
Ben van Wijnen
The kampong environment is
generally cool and shady, with lots of greenery. Paths are unpaved
and compounds are
kept very clean. Spaces flow into one another freely
with few boundaries or obstructions. Unlike the roads of modern housing
estates, which tend to segregate and disintegrate, the absence of physical
barriers in the kampong allows a flexibility in accommodating a flexibility in accommodating dual needs
that is not available under the imposed order of the modern housing estate.
The kampong or village sustained
traditionally by subsistence activities like padi-growing, fishing and
other agricultural practices. The house compound in the kampong is
meticulously well-kept, with the compound well swept and planted with
vegetables and fruit trees, especially with coconut and banana and, to a
lesser extent, with papaya, pineapple, guave and rambutan trees.
The wells and toilets are usually located in the compound, spaced far
apart and kept away from the house.
The well-shaded compounds are favourite places for play and social interaction, but are also used as working
Attap- and mat-weaving, drying, rice-pounding and carpentry are
some common work activities carried out in the house compound. Another
semi-private space commonly used for work is the open bottom of the
stilted Malaysian house. Besides being a popular workplace and chatting place,
it is also used to store padi, fuel (firewood, coconut fronds, etc.),
building materials, implements for planting padi, the kaki lesong (a large
pounder operated by leg-power), bicycles and even cars.
The kampong, on first encounter, may look
haphazard to many observers. It has few clear visual landmarks or focal
points which may help a person to locate his orientation. The kampong is
randomly distributed with Malaysian houses, trees, compounds and paths.
houses look similar and blend harmoniously with the environment. There are
usually not many main roads in the kampong except occasionally for the
access road leading into the kampong. Instead, paths link the village,
leading from one house to another, winding through the houses and leading
to other parts of the village.
Paths are unclear as many of them merge
into sandy open compounds of houses.
There is no clear geometric order in the
layout of the kampong. Instead, the layout is determined by the social
relationships and the culture and lifestyle of the villagers. House sites
are traditionally selected by observation and religious rituals. Houses
are spaced far apart for future expansion, tree-planting and privacy.
Adequate privacy is provided by the dark interiors and the distance
between the houses in most cases.
Houses are joined by free-flowing paths
winding around the houses. House compounds flow into each other. Few
obstructive physical barriers are used to demarcate territories. Instead,
very subtle and unobstructive markings are used. Fallen coconut tree
trunks and a cleanly swept compound can already define a house compound.
In the kampong, the definition of public and private areas is unclear and
Even the boundaries of kampongs are largely
indistinct although boundaries in padi fields are more clearly defined by
the bunds and irrigation canals. Although not much importance is attached
to the demarcation of house territories, much importance is attached to
the rights to the fruit trees and coconut trees.
Social interaction is maximized by the
free-flowing, open public-private areas. Children can
play safely anywhere in the house, compounds and in the public areas. The
kampong is under a huge canopy of coconut and other trees which keeps the
kampong well shaded and allows use of the open compounds even during hot
The natural setting of the kampong, the
use of local building materials and the lack of physical barriers give the
kampong an informal and open atmosphere which is conducive to intimate