Thursday, September 13, 2007


On this first morning of Ramadan when Muslims wake up earlier than usual to partake in the activities of Islam holiest month and we in Kedah Malaysia are blessed with a day off I would like to look back at the query or intimidation registered as the topic for this chapter.

Obviously we see new housings litter our landscape with the grandeur of roofs camouflaging whatever available open space. Driving into Malaysia's capital city Kuala Lumpur from the north and approaching the Jalan Duta exit point, the left side view from the right hand drive vehicle confront us with large housing zone. The bright red or other colored tiles roofing stretching as far as the eye can see vouched that inhabitants find their comforts under the protective tops. Yet are they as comfortable as wished or don't they wish for something truly Malaysian, traditional and domestic? Are their homes comforting as they would have hoped ? They would have been intimidated or perhaps swept off their feet by being in circulation around kampong or housing zones with names that chanted the like of 'Sentul East', 'Grandmarie', 'Kota Kemuning', 'Damansara Heights' or 'Villa Balinese'.

This prevailing situation stretches throughout the country. Be it in Arau, Kuantan or Sempurna. Sadly all the homes are concrete partaking shapes and sizes almost identical. Building materials varying from bricks, concrete, steel, iron bars, aluminium, glass, plywood, cement boards etc make up the resources used. Wood in its natural setting and identity is almost absent.

Coming to the crux of things, we are missing our true and natural homes. Fifty years ago almost all of us live in wooden houses. Pillars, walls, floors, doors and windows were all wood. The roofs with wooden rafters support attap as cover. The houses stood alone and not hemmed by neighbors unless yards away. Earth warming and timber restrictions came as excuses. Timber is expansive and hard to get. Are these true?

Two days ago we were in Langkawi, a pearl of the east and now being promoted as a 'Geo Park' recognized by UNESCO. We often crossed the short sea route from Kuala Kedah to Kuah by ferry and more often than not returning the same day though we have a place to stay on the island. We are aware that foreigners have their homes in Langkawi. The international yachting fraternity with their yachts and boats anchored at marina bays on the island justify its reality. We know some became owners of apartments on the island. This time we found that some have invested on property and built their dream homes in the most indomitable way. A husband and wife from Holland dropped anchor one and half year ago and were mesmerised by the island's charm and friendly people. They became landlubbers and built their homes near Makam Mahsuri. Yes I meant 'homes' because they built not one but four TRADITIONAL homes.

We were aghast that here a Dutch couple have managed to create a Malay kampong in its pristine beauty with 'petai', 'mempelam'. and coconut palms gracing their open spaces. Their frontage gives them the panorama of vast padi fields reaching as far as the Mat Cincang range in the west, while their backyard neighbors a rubber estate. Pride because Andre and Ria have found our traditions and culture; built and adopted upon them. Beholding its beauty nevertheless harbors sadness and anger. We lose out. Why can't we continue to build our traditional homes as our forefathers have done before? Why must we give away precious scenery and landed property?Why must we move into concrete building? We choose instead to live in barracks or 'terrace' or 'affordable' homes.

As we celebrate Merdeka the 50th time, I cannot help wondering how much more will we lose while others appreciate and treasure all our worth. Not only have the early British pioneers written about our legends, history, beliefs etc and taken away treasures from the land and yet in modern times we continue to suffer the same fate. Our friendly gesture inviting wealthy visitors to our country to make Malaysia their second home is applaudable. To whom? Now our traditional homes have become treasures, assets to them. They invite visitors from all over the world to stay in Malay 'palaces' to feel the invigorating lifestyle of bygone days. Click through your search for home stays etc in your web page , you will discover the trends.

Truly the homes they helped to build again would have been lost, discarded and left to suffer the ravages of our tropical climate. They bought old homes and with love and affection, no doubt with the grace of their bank account. reuse the timber with all ingenuity to construct the homes as you see in the attached photographs. The chanced visit nonetheless helped to register a determination to participate in the same direction too.

Really, we have come across an Australian family who built up Malay traditional homes as a hotel and a Swiss who occupies a hillock overlooking the vast stretch of Langkawi's southern shores a sight so precious that it is priceless.

Wake up my fellow Malaysian. Move away from the concrete jungles Get back to basics. Come. inhibit and retire in our own traditional homes. Look at these pictures. Would you not be mesmerised too? When are you making the move?

to continue


Azizi Ahmad Termizi: said...

Our architects and planners are the product of western education. Even the ones trained locally are taught by western-educated teachers who, wether they realize it or not, instil western values and celebrate western designs.

There is this topic called 'vernacular architecture' taught in universities. But its just as a sideline interest.

We should start extolling local values and re-look at our relationship with our own surrounding environment & climate. Finally, more R&D is desprately needed.

Count Byron said...

Dear Sir
I simply love this article. Congratulations. I just trooped from Queen's blog and what a blessing indeed to have come here to read about our heritage. I'd love to be Andre and Ria.. building such lovely houses, enjoying the children and grandchildren in the element.

Thanks for sharing sir.

sue said...

salam Pak Non,
hop in from Queen's blog..

used to work in Langkawi before with another Pak Non of Arkitek Maju.

it is true that there are many foreigners who choosed the legendary island as their home and preserved the malay architecture

idham said...

salam Pak Non....i too came in from Queen's castle...


My dream home will be a rumah kampung....dari kayu semestinya, built in the lush green forest ...with a natural stream flowing thru wake up to the sound of itik2 bermain air....dan ayam berkokok di atas pagar...
bunyi burung dan unggas menegur tetamu yang datang...
kedinginan dari rimbunan bayangan pohon manggis dan rambutan...
my dream only a WILL away...
right now, the will is rather weak...

best wishes Pak Non...and SELAMAT BERPUASA.

idham <==turned fifty together with Malaysia.

Kak Teh said...

Pak Non, came here straight from QOTH's blog. What an interesting discovery. Yes, if we ever move back to Malaysia, we would certainly like to live in those surroundings...not another concrete jungle.

Queen Of The House said...

I've brought over (or directed) some of my blog friends to your blog! I was pleasantly surprised that you have started blogging - but it's an interesting development. Do share more of your stories and observations.

Please give my birthday regards to Mama. Wishing her continued good health and happiness (tak dapat nak SMS tadi sebab prepaid habis!!)