​What Is A Kampong, And Where Are They Found?

In Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Brunei, the term is often used to refer to small rural villages and, less frequently, certain kinds of urban slums.

Kampongs, Defined

The term kampongs, or kampungs, is often describing dwelling places where Malay migrants live, but are also defined as traditional settlements of various Asian indigenous peoples. These habitations are generally lacking in electricity, water, and gas. Kampongs also refer to city slums inhabited by rural peoples who have migrated into the city in search of better employment. Some define Kampongs as a backwards, traditionalist way of living. Essentially, kampung is a Malay word that means settlement or village. It is also possible that the word Kampong later evolved into the English word compound, as in an area composed of many houses in an enclosed area.

Parts of the World Where Kampongs Are Found

In the past, kampongs were started by the British for housing Malay migrants in an urban setting in Singapore. Most kampongs, modern and traditional, are found in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Brunei. Singapore used to have many kampong villages, but urban development has reduced their numbers. One of the earliest kampong settlements in Singapore was a fishing village on the Rochor River. Other kampong villages were literally built on stilts in the coastal waters of northern Singapore. Cambodia, on the other hand, has kampong provinces that are tourist destinations for their natural and historical attractions. Brunei has one of the oldest kampong water villages, Kampong Ayer. It was settled earlier than 1521.

Peoples Traditionally Living In Kampongs

Traditionally, kampongs were inhabited by Asian indigenous tribes. Indonesia is one example, with its many traditional villages called kampongs. Malaysia also has traditional kampung villages that contain at most 10,000 people. These villages have traditional leaders called penghulu, or village chiefs. The Kampong Ayer in Brunei is around 1,300 years old, and today has around 39,000 people living in its houses on stilts in Brunei Bay. It is a collection of small kampongs that are interconnected by 22.36 miles of boardwalks and served by water taxis. Singapore still has traditional kampongs in its northern areas, but today they are largely limited to the small surrounding islands of the country.

Architecture and Infrastructure

The infrastructure of kampongs varies from earlier times to today, and by specific country as well. Brunei has one of the most interesting, with Kampong Ayer. It has 4,200 structures on stilts linked together by walkways. There are shops, restaurants, schools, homes, a hospital, and a mosque. Recently, additional innovations planned included those for concrete buildings to house anyone wanting to live in them, provided freely by the king. In Singapore, one of the oldest kampongs is Nee Soon Village, dating back to 1850. As the village was settled, it acquired a laundry shop, a market, a cinema, clinics, and mechanic shops. It was demolished in the early 1980s as new developments arrived in the area.

Kampongs' Use To Describe Urban Slums

Singapore kampongs started as a British attempt at housing the different nationalities at that time. The downtown area in the Singapore River was chosen to be the site for the Indian Kampong, Chinese Kampong, Malay Kampong, and the European Town. Later, some of these kampongs moved to the rural areas surrounding the river banks. Early kampongs were haunts for picnics, nature explorations, and adventure hikes. They were not crowded either, and had better accommodations, but these later turned into city slums as more people settled in search of better jobs. As these settlements deteriorated, city authorities have actively demolished them to make way for new urban developments.

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