NILAI: It appears to be just another straggly, dilapidated settlement off Highway 1.
This village at first sight seems like thousands of others. The houses aren’t much to look at, especially now that the thatched roofs have been replaced with aluminium.
This is Kampung Hakka. Younger visitors might think that it’s a deprived kind of place and its inhabitants should be happy that developers want to move them to modern homes.
But look beneath the surface. Its history makes it unique.
Very little seems to have changed in 92-year-old Kong Sook Koon’s home since she first walked through its doors with her new husband on her wedding day on Dec 11, 1947.
The wooden house near the side of a dusty road may seem like a relic of the past but Kong would not have it any other way. It’s her home and the walls are full of memories.
The house, which proudly bears the Hew family name above the door, has stood the test of time. Its timber beams are as solid as ever.
It may lack the modern furnishings and fripperies of the new shoplots which have sprung up across the road, but Kong’s house and the other original homes in the village have something money simply cannot buy: a soul.
Originally known as Kampung Atap for the fronds of the nipa palm used to thatch the first houses, the settlement was founded by Hakka miners who came to nearby Mantin, Negeri Sembilan, some 140 years ago.
At its peak, over 2,000 people lived in 231 homes sprawled along the banks of the Sungai Setul, close to the heart of the mining activity.
In time, a primary school and temple, where Kong would later marry Hew Kim Sang, were added. Other than that, not much has changed over the years.
But since 2011 they have been struggling to fend off developers threatening to tear down what their forefathers spent over six generations building.
The developers can be persuasive. Over 40 households have already accepted compensation, abandoned their homes and gone.
Others, like village spokesman Chong Tze Yeow have taken their case to court, and it’s turning into a long fight.
The High Court ruled in favour of the developers in 2013, but the villagers managed to obtain a stay order.
Chong, 51, says that they are in the dark about the fate of the village. They don’t know who owns the land now as their attempts to get answers from the authorities have been stonewalled.
He tells FMT that the uncertainty over the village’s future is causing many of his neighbours to give up and move out.
“When their homes need repairs, they don’t want to spend a lot of money to fix them or build new ones because they don’t know what is going to happen in a year or two,” says Chong, whose grandfather and great grandmother were among the earliest settlers.
He adds that even if the villagers were offered places in low-cost flats, they would not want to move as this village is the only home they have ever known.
“We are used to the way of life here, all living together as one big family, helping one another, being able to grow our own vegetables and keeping our pets.
“In apartments or in housing residences, many people don’t know their neighbours. If we are made to go there we will lose our ‘family’ and have to live alone.”
Chong says the new state and the federal government could help them in their fight to stay and urges government leaders to come and listen to the voices of the people.
The villagers are no longer alone in their battle. The activist group Rakan Mantin, founded in 2013 to protect historical and cultural landscapes from indiscriminate demolition, is also fighting for them to be allowed to stay.
Chan Seong Foong is a founding member of the group. She claims it was unfair that the village land was sold without any consultation with the locals.
“Our main interest is to help them find a solution that is fair. This is one of the oldest Hakka settlements in the country. It should be preserved.”
She maintains that the authorities under the previous administration failed to give clear answers as to who currently owns the land and what type of development is planned.
“We want the state government to clarify all this. The villagers are desperate for honest answers to their questions.”
Kong fell sick last year and is now immobile, but her spirit is still strong. Like her neighbours, she is determined not to be forced out.
“By myself, I can’t do much. A single chopstick breaks easily, but many chopsticks bound together are hard to break.
“All of us who are still here will keep fighting for this village, it belongs to us all.”
It might not look like much, just another higgledy-piggledy old kampung off Highway 1 but to Kong and her neighbours, Kampung Hakka is everything that matters.