Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kampong Ayer: A tale of two villages


The identity, character and uniqueness of Bandar Seri Begawan are enshrined in the historical significance of its vintage buildings. In the case of Brunei's famed Kampong Ayer or Water Village, these vintage buildings are the wooden houses, built on stilts over the Brunei River.

Described by early European travellers as the 'Venice of the East', Kampong Ayer has 36 kilometres of walkways mainly supported by concrete columns decked with metre-wide timber piles.

Walking on the boardwalk after the joyous National Day celebration, the sights and sounds around me evoked a poignant feeling of yesteryear. I was heading back to Mile 1 Jalan Tutong where my car was parked but I was in no hurry. With the patriotic spirit still inside me, I lingered a while longer at the water village.

From the walkway that runs along west from the Yayasan Complex , I strolled to Kampong Tamoi Tengah, one of the more popular places for visitors in the water village.

There, one can get good views as far as the copper-domed Masjid Kampong Tamoi, an elegant mosque on the water's edge.

To promote Kampong Ayer as a tourist destination, houses have been converted into homestay concept lodgings for visitors, which would provide another source of income for the locals.

One of the residents who has been living there for more than 40 years, showed me around the village.

He recalled the incident when his house in Kg Pg Tajuddin Hitam was completely razed in a fire, but because he has too many fond memories of the place, he decided to buy another house just a stone's throw from his previous one.

From Kampong Tamoi Tengah, I continued my stroll along the wooden walkways to Kampong Bukit Salat.

I hung around the riverbank.

The tide was low with long stretches of exposed mudflats which attracted marshland birds lured by fish and mangrove swamp creatures.

Fiddler crab burrows abound here with many tiny crabs coming out of their hiding place in search of food. A shoal of tilapia fishes gulped in air at the surface, probably due to lack of oxygen of the water.

Rather less pleasant was the pollution in the water around the houses, all too apparent at low tide, and large number of migratory egrets and monkeys, scavenging for food.

The houses here are generally older than the ones in Kampong Tamoi Tengah though efforts have been made by the residents to brighten up the place.

A closer look reveals a state of neglect in the village infrastructure - dilapidated houses, rotting wooden walkways and stilt supports, irresponsible dumping of rubbish and remains of burnt houses.

To preserve Kampong Ayer for future generations, it is hoped that the relevant authorities will take immediate action to fix the sad state of matters in the water village especially in Kampong Bukit Salat. Otherwise, the nation's river-dwelling origins and the soul of Bandar Seri Begawan may disappear forever from our memories.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend

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