Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Balik Kampung Ritual

Balik Kampung is a must for Malays who hail from the kampungs, come hariraya.Ever ask why? Sure, go back to their roots, the old folks who didn't migrate along with them to the towns or cities, to the old relatives and friends, to celebrate in the ambiance of old memories and haunts.

But more importantly, as I begin to realize, is to meet with most of your friends and relatives who have migrated to the various urban centres in Malaysia and whom you've not met for years. You're not even sure where their current addresses are nor can you visit them all in one go. Chances of meeting them all in the kampung are brighter than attending a formal gathering where many may fail to appear.

Nothing can reflect the changes that have occurred in the rural communities after 50 years of merdeka than the hariraya festivities. Old houses that were once humble and serene are now transformed into grand and even palatial residence, well adorned for the occasion. ( Of course there are also many forsaken homes, battered and dilapidated, with no decendents of the departed seemingly interested in renovating and maintaining them!). The renovated or new houses will have a well landscaped and lush green compound, sporting some up to ten or more gleaming cars belonging to family members. When I visitted a relative of my wife who, she said, used to live in a rickety on-room wooden hut some 30 years ago, I was surprised to find a sprawling home with two guessrooms each of which can be turned into a fullscale badmington court. In the courtyard was a
brandnew blue Mercedes Benz 240C, a 4WD Sportage, two other sports cars and some huge motorbikes. The grand old lady had fourteen kids and is now a grand old widow. Among her children is a big-time contractor, a senior university lecturer, several professionals, and one of the daughter-in-laws is an air hostess. The late husband was only a policeman - a private.

My first reaction was to reevaluate my stand on family planning. It was useful at one time when the Malays were trying to get out of the clutches of poverty. But now we should put it in reverse, at least for those who can afford to have a big family, especially since primary education is now almost free.

The big issue facing the remoter rural villages as is my own, is one of survival. Although it's just about a kilometer away from the main road some ten miles away from Kuala Pilah and fifteen miles away from Seremban, with a metalled single-lane road linking it to the main road, ther village is loosing its adult population. All the young men and women had migrated to the urban centres, leaving the tinytots and the very old folks in the village. Only three men under 50 are left behind. Most of the old houses though already renovated are being reclaimed by the secondary jungle. The padi fileds have been abandoned years ago. The population of the village has dwindled from some 800-1000 people some ten years ago to about 150.

I wonder how many villages in the nation are undergoing the same process of "dying out". Many, many years ago when the country was undertaking "urbanisasi" in a serious way, govermnet servants like me used to voice our views that rural-urban migration might depopulate the villages unless something was done to make the rural arreas appeal to the young. Agricultural modernization and bringing light industries to the rural areas were not enough. Bandarisasi should be accompanied by bringing the attractions of the urban areas to the rural, including nightclubs and funfairs. The ulamas, both self-proclaimed and aspirants, objected strongly. And now, many of the rural villages are dying and only those close to the urban centres seemed to have gained a new life.

What are we going to do about it? Shall we just leave the remote rural villages die away and be reclaimed by the jungle?

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