Kampung Seronok is never short of fun and, true to its name, happiness.
Penang’s beginnings as a port city and its subsequent bloom into a cosmopolitan centre have left it a unique multicultural society with various strands of identities. Experiencing robust social and economic growth since the late twentieth century, Penang has thrived, and its urban landscape has shifted at a fast pace.
But if we go beyond the hustle and bustle of this engaging city, we find ourselves surrounded by quaint and slow-paced surviving kampungs scattered just outside the periphery. Kampung Seronok, located between Batu Maung and Bayan Lepas, is one such village where rural and urban life intersect.
Divided by Jalan Permatang which connects Batu Maung and Bayan Lepas, Kampung Seronok is easily identified by its big blue mosque, Masjid Kampung Seronok. The main part of the village, where the community hall and other facilities are located, is opposite the mosque.
A natural pool at the foothill.
Kampung Seronok is a quirky name: “seronok” literally means “happy”. According to Rendana, who has lived in the village for over 40 years, the name came from a foreign tourist. “Our village is really famous among foreign tourists – many tourism activities as well as our own community activities attract a great deal of attention. In the old days, there was an Englishman who came here and said the village was very welcoming and it made him very happy. He asked for the Malay word for ‘happy’, and the villagers answered ‘seronok’. He then said, ‘This is a happy village – seronok village!’ and that was how we got the name.”
A bit of digging reveals that there was indeed an English engineer named D.W. Grehan who came to the kampung over 50 years ago. He frequently visited the village to participate in the community activities such as Hari Raya, Maulud Nabi and also kenduri, or feasts. In 1946 he suggested the name to the villagers, and the elders accepted it.
Masjid Kampung Seronok.
Another quirky – and controversial – anecdote about Kampung Seronok is its professing an altered version of the Islamic teaching called “agama Matahari” (religion of the Sun), propagated by the kampung’s founder, Haji Muhammad Shafie, better known as Haji Muhammad Matahari. However, according to Rendana, who is one of Haji Muhammad’s descendants, the story is baseless: “He was nicknamed Haji Muhammad Matahari because he could accurately predict the time when the sun rises and sets as well as praying times. It’s not an unusual thing since back then people did not have clocks. He just planted a stick on the ground and estimated the time by observing the length of the shadow,” says Rendana, who currently runs a cafe just next to the mosque.
She says her great-great-great grandfather came from Indonesia. Having travelled to many places, Haji Muhammad was familiar with various cultures and was also an excellent carpenter. “He was fascinated by a certain culture’s depiction of the sun. Since he was gifted with his hands, he carved his house with many sun-shaped motifs as decoration,” she adds.
A Communal Spirit
LEFT - Rendana in front of her stall. RIGHT - Mini lake garden not far from the community hall.
Life in Kampung Seronok is far from mundane. In fact, the village is quite a happening place – it has long been a top destination serving “kampung experiences” for local and foreign tourists alike. Indeed, Kampung Seronok has a traditional Malay show house complete with traditional tools around the yard. The villagers frequently organise activities that involve traditional Malay culture such as sports, cultural dances and religious celebrations. Some also provide homestay accommodation for tourists, and on a daily basis, the village organises its own rukun tetangga (neighbourhood association) made up mostly of youngsters, and it is where most of them attend silat or Muay Thai classes. Due to the villagers’ exceptional hospitality, it was gazetted a Tourist Destination Village by the state government.
Kampung Seronok traditional Malay show house.
Apart from promoting traditional culture, one of the unique qualities that still persist among the villagers is a strong communitarian sense and self-sustaining attitude. For example, there is a printing factory there that has been providing employment to villagers for a long time, including Rendana: “When I was in school, I used to work at the factory with my mother. It has provided a lot of job opportunities to youngsters,” she says.
Kampung Seronok community hall and computer lab.
Rendana sees the village as one big family: “Everybody cares for each other. We gather for gotong-royong when there is a kenduri or any celebration. We used to have this weekly tradition where we do wayang pacak and everyone will come. Some took the opportunity to do business. And one other thing that we’re proud of is our mosque – it was fully funded by the villagers; some even donated a large sum of money or sponsored certain building materials.”
While the sun sets on other villages in the state and elsewhere in Malaysia, Kampung Seronok thrives, proving that tradition and modernity can go hand in hand – and rather happily at that.
Razan Rose’ writes to put food on his table. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mohd Sazni is an irregular flaneur. He likes to read and watch movies. Currently he can be found in a local university in Penang doing film studies.