Several of our members have been wondering about the nature of the programme to revamp the kampung (village) area on the left bank of the Sarawak river in Kuching. The Borneo Post published recently a column by Thomas Ong  commenting on this programme.


“[…] The numerous Malay kampungs along the north bank of the river such as Kampung Tupong to the west, Kampung Istana, Kampung Bedil and Kampung Surabaya right to Kampung Pulo in the east next to the Salahuddin Bridge have maintained their kampung character and old-world charm.

However, projects are underway to modernise and shift them out of their haphazard and disorganised lifestyle by the government. Like all kampungs, they have, over the ages, sprung up organically without the proper planning for infrastructure and in some areas the houses are clustered too closely without  fire safety in mind. Roads are narrow and houses are crammed.

This new relocation project, named Desa Ilham will change the way Kuching will be seen as the kampungs will be demolished all the way from the Satok Bridge in the west to the Salahuddin Bridge in the east. Perhaps Kuching will never be seen as the idyllic city with its casual ambiance again.

The Kampung dwellers will all be housed in a new area further inland from the Salahuddin Bridge. They will be housed in apartments.

[…] The cluster of houses located at Kampung Boyan and Kampung Gersik should all be preserved. It slopes uphill from the riverbank. The kampong houses nestle on the gentle hill and are all within walking distance of each other. It could well be a Malay tourism village.  […] The views from there are superb. Just bring in some more tourist products, such as a few high-end Malay restaurants to the other houses. Even a Malay heritage museum from a cluster of the houses. Then bring in a Starbucks and a KFC or a McDonald’s. Of course, add a dash of tourism trinket-shop. Some of these houses can be converted to homestay houses or small motels.

[…] Then there is the other strength of Kuching, her tambang. It is the ubiquitous water crafts, that ply between the two banks of Sarawak River. It may be the icon of Kuching but without help, it may not last that long.

 […] The houses are fairly well maintained and with great heritage value.

[… ] Certainly, this plan needs organisation, but the best part of it is that it does not cost much as it is using what are generally all there for utilisation. It does not need displacing all the kampung folk but engage them to reorganise themselves and to re-orientate their usage of their premises.

It is a real shame that we have not seen the potential of our own city. The past administration has been wont on demolishing, first the Gambier Street Market and now the whole of the north shore Malay Kampungs.

The replacements for the Malay villages are more concrete jungles. More high-rise buildings. So when the new phase of the Kuching Waterfront gets underway, voila! we will have more high-rises at the south shore and high-rises at the north shore. Concrete jungles, is that how we envisage the new Kuching?

Or do we dare to make the kampungs and the tambang the icon of the new Kuching? And push more economic value to the kampung dwellers. If we want to preserve heritage, then this is where we begin.”

Our opinion?

To “write straight”, as the author suggests at the end of his article, we would say that he got the point in stressing the heritage value of these Malay kampungs. Demolishing them, translocating their inhabitants into concrete apartment blocks further North and perhaps developing a tourist village at the site of the kampungs -if that is really the purpose of the Desa Ilham project- it’s quite a radical enterprise.

Constructive comment: there are certainly ways to modernize the kampungs while preserving the strong cultural values they retained over generations (the “sense of belonging to the place”).

We suspect however that most SHS members will not support the author in his suggestions to transform the kampungs into tourist villages and “bringing in” the likes of Starbucks, KFC and McDonald’s. Fine, if that is the demand of the inhabitants themselves. But in our opinion, heritage-minded visitors do not look for global franchises. They look for authenticity.

Full Borneo Post article :  “Preserving the Malay heartland”  1 Nov. 2015

Comments welcome. Dare!