Rahmah Ali is not a happy woman. In fact, this feisty Tanjung Tokong villager is upset over Uda Holdings’ plans to demolish the houses in her kampung and ‘develop’ the area. “Hati geram!” she says.
Photos by Anil (Click on icon on bottom right to switch to full-screen slideshow mode)
Seated at the dining table inside her hundred-year-old wooden house, Rahmah says she has lived here since she was born.
I ask her, somewhat untactfully, how old she is.
“Sama dengan Mahathir,” the widow replies, in a matter-of-fact tone. That would make her 84, but her razor-sharp mind shows no sign of slowing down.
Hers is not the usual wooden kampung house; the beams inside are solid, probably hardwood similar to cengal or merbau.
Earlier, Salleh Yahaya, the head of the Tanjung Tokong Residents Association, had proudly showed me another century-old house on stilts next door to Rahmah’s. It is still standing intact, though the beams are bending in the middle from the weight of the house over the years. But like the strong wood used in Rahmah’s house, the dark, hard kayu bukit used is different from that used in typical contemporary kampung houses – and that explains why both these houses are still standing after all these years. What is unique is that not a single metal nail was used in the construction of this house. Instead, Salleh pointed out the wooden nails that hold the support beams together.
Speaking animatedly, Rahmah recalls the time when the sea came right up to the area where her house stands along Jalan Tanjung Tokong Lama. That was before the British carried out land reclamation work, pushing the sea-front beyond the present-day Jalan Tanjung Tokong.
I ask Rahmah why she is fond of the area, one of the country’s oldest fishing villages – already in existence when Francis Light established the British settlement in Penang.
“It’s the privacy,” she responds in Malay. “My neighbours don’t know about my personal matters and I don’t know about theirs.”
It’s obvious too that this place, the ancestral village for many residents, is where her heart is. “Kalau bagi dua unit flat pun, makcik tak mau. Tak mau, tak mau.”
She offers me a bundle of goreng pisang to take back with me. “Ambil,” she says. “Jiran baru masak dan bagi sedekah kepada makcik.”
I look at the bundle and hesitate, as it appears to have been given to her for tea.
“Ambil,” she insists.
Touched, I accept. I wave goodbye to Rahmah as she stands by the door – and cannot resist trying the snack as soon as I am a polite distance away.
Goreng pisang never tasted so good.
But I can’t help wondering what’s going to happen to her house and the old village. Another sacrifice at the altar of misguided ‘development’?
Villagers like Rahmah and Salleh are not against progress, but they want development that blends in with their surroundings while preserving their own history.