In many ways, Kg Buah Pala reminds us of the life-style we once had – but have now all but lost in our anonymous concrete jungles, observes Anil Netto.
Yesterday’s unsuccessful demolition of Kg Buah Pala revealed how strongly the villagers feel for their homes and the affinity they have for the land.
Women, men and children marched up to confront grunting bulldozers and a menacing demolition team backed by red-helmeted riot police. The developer and his team were clearly taken aback by the resilience and determination the villagers displayed in defending their homes.
The legal technicalities aside, few outsiders can understand what the Kg Buah Pala residents are going through. Some may say the villagers have been manipulated by BN politicians to hold out for a higher offer of compensation.
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But the reality is that the villagers do not seem to be the least bit interested – even with the compensation offer of “double-storey terrace houses”, which on the surface appears reasonable. Many Penangites were thus baffled – even outraged – that many villagers rejected the offer. “What do they want? Why are they so greedy?” These were the indignant questions asked.
What do they want? From the looks of it: all they want is to be left alone. They would much rather live in their old wooden houses perched on hillocks covered in lush greenery and surrounded by coconut, neem and rambutan trees – like they and their ancestors have done for more than a century. Not far away, cows and goats, munching grass, gaze curiously at passers-by.
It’s a community where everyone knows most of the other village-folk; they may have their differences, but it is their community, their village, their life. Compared to the rustic village houses they have there – and without romanticising it – “double-storey terrace houses” may not seem as attractive as they might be for other urban dwellers.
In many ways, Kg Buah Pala reminds us of the life-style we once had – but have now all but lost. In our grey concrete jungles and mass housing estates, community life has all but evaporated. In guarded and gated condominium complexes and housing estates, most middle-class Malaysians would be hard pressed to know those beyond their immediate neighbours, whom they greet with polite “hellos”.
We have exchanged the greenery for concrete. We no longer know how to grow our food and rear livestock to supplement our daily needs. We have forgotten what it feels like to live off the land, in a community – to experience the scent of fresh coconuts, to savour the tranquil sight of a village well, brimming with clear water, and to gaze at deep red rambutans bursting from a towering tree.
Places like Kg Buah Pala remind us of what we have lost. It would be a pity if the entire village itself has to make way for yet another luxury condominium complex in our unsustainable and often soulless concrete jungle.