Kampung / landscape : rural-urban migrants' interpretations of their home landscape. The case of Alor Star and Kuala Lumpur

Fields of Research
Kampung is a pervasive concept in Malay Culture and considered counter urban in contemporary discourse. Rural to urban migration of the Malays from kampung to cities occur at an accelerated pace in urbanizing Malaysia. Rural migrants are said to remain attached to their rural kampung lifestyles and find the socio-spatial character of urban environment difficult to adapt to. Previous studies on rural kampung by anthropologists and social scientists have unpacked the socio-economic and cultural aspects of kampung Malays in rural area. My study of migrants in Alor Star and Kuala Lumpur is focused on the landscape meanings of kampung and explores how these ideas have been brought across to a city environment. I investigated the meanings and symbolic values that kampung holds to the rural-urban migrants through a ‘landscape lens’. I recorded the experiences of the rural-urban migrants in adapting to an urban landscape, identified kampung elements to which people have strong attachment with and highlighted the kampung characteristics that could be maintained or replicated in order to address the maladaptation of the migrants and enhance their urban living experience. Study participants were rural-urban migrant respondents from rural kampung in Yan, Kedah who have either moved to Kuala Lumpur or Alor Star. The case studies in the two cities were carried out using qualitative methods including photo elicitation, in-depth interviews, model mapping techniques and participant observation. Respondents provided narratives of their journey from kampung, moving to the city, and their process of adapting and settling in cities. Challenges in adaptation to city living spaces included spatial use, privacy, social relationships, safety and surveillance. My findings demonstrated that the memory of kampung plays a significant part in guiding the life of respondents in the city, and that the image of kampung is pervasive in the daily social and spatial practice of rural-urban migrants, guiding respondents’ level of adaptation and place-making in the city landscape. The use of landscape as lens was helpful in interpreting the complex and multivalent kampung meanings. Addressing a dynamic kampung idea through a landscape framework highlights the strong parallels between kampung and the early landscape concepts. The process of unweaving the meanings of kampung have illustrated that kampung ideas have the potential to inspire a landscape design language that could mitigate the harsh contrast between rural and urban Malaysia.