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The Kampongs in Malaysia

Ben van Wijnen

"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 didnít have any public buildings other than a small mosque."


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 areas. 
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.
The 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 overlaps.

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 afternoons.

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 social relations. 



 Ben van Wijnen

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