Located between Seberang Jaya and Bukit Mertajam is a quaint village surrounded by paddy fields and budding development – Kampung Permatang Rawa, a Malay heartland in Seberang Perai.
Azhar Mat, head of Kampung Permatang Rawa’s Village Development and Security Committee (JKKK), explains the village name’s etymology: “It is claimed that the Rawanese people who came from Sumatera in Indonesia were the earliest settlers in the area, while the word ‘permatang’ refers to the ridges in paddy fields.”
Today, there are many Malay sub-ethnic groups living in the village: “More than 70% of the population here is Malay, be they Kedah-Malay, Javanese-Malay, Siamese-Malay or others. The demographics can be categorised in two groups based on age and occupation: senior citizens who mostly work in the agriculture sector as farmers; and middle-aged and young people working in the professional sector, in business and in industrial areas around Penang,” says Azhar.
Flood mitigation project at Kampung Permatang Rawa.
Just like any other village community, the spirit of togetherness persists at Kampung Permatang Rawa. According to Azhar, the villagers help and visit each other during festivals and events such as weddings and Hari Raya Aidilfitri. On top of that, the mosque committee in the area actively organises programmes such as religious sermons, Hari Raya celebrations and other religious events.
One of the oldest schools in the area is Sekolah Menengah Agama Al-Ahmadiah. It was founded in 1896 by Tuan Guru Haji Muhammad from Pattani, Thailand. The institute has produced many renowned Muslim scholars such as Syeikh Idris Marbawi, Syeikh Salleh Masri (the founder of Madrasah al-Masriah in Penang) and Syed Shabudin (the first mufti of Selangor). The school was absorbed as a government-aided religious school in 2007.1
In the 1980s the village was also home to legendary football team, Lang Rawa (“lang” meaning eagle in Malay). It was founded by two dedicated local residents, Tengku Azmi and Zulkifli Bakar.
According to Zalemi Ismail, Lang Rawa’s former defender, Lang Rawa was at one time the runner-up in the Bukit Mertajam Football League (Division 1). On one occasion, Lang Rawa members teamed up with other local amateur football clubs to play against the Pahang state team in a friendly match. Although Lang Rawa was defeated 4-2, there was a sense of achievement because they managed to score two goals against professional players.
Floods can be a problem in the village, as seen in January last year when heavy rains inundated the area. Sediment deposited into Permatang Rawa River from nearby construction sites is a contributing factor, claims Azhar, who says that sand and dust from sand trucks also leave the air quality less than satisfactory. “Some of the abandoned constructions sites have become home to wild animals like wild boars and snakes, too, which can be problematic when they wander into the village,” he says.
It comes as a relief then when the state announced its plan to alleviate the flood problem: “The Penang state government has allocated RM31mil for a flood mitigation project in the Seberang Perai area, which includes Kampung Permatang Rawa. This was announced by former Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng last year during his visit to the village. The flood mitigation project involves deepening Permatang Rawa River and building a barrier along the river to avoid overflow of water during the rainy season.”
The upside of development is the facilities and services that come along with it: “It encourages people to come here for leisure or to do business, thereby encouraging the upgrading of public facilities. Moreover, the opening of commercial centres such as Uptown Bandar Perda, which is near Kampung Permatang Rawa, provides an opportunity for micro businesses, benefiting the community,” says Azhar.
Life is still simple for these kids.
Another positive spillover from development in the area is the Permatang Rawa mini stadium, which received RM3.5mil in funds last year for an upgrade. “Hopefully this will encourage healthier lifestyles in the community, especially among youths,” says Azhar, who laments that with development also comes social ills such as drugs and illegal racing among the young.
The state government has set aside RM2.4mil for the stadium upgrade, while RM1.1mil will be borne by AEI, a company involved in the development of the halal industry in Penang.2
And just like other villages in Penang, the JKKK plays an important role as a go-between for the villagers to communicate with and deliver information from the state government. “We (the JKKK) aim to serve and help the villagers, and for bigger issues we refer to a councillor or the Seberang Jaya community centre.
“In the short term, all issues related to development are noted by several agencies, starting from the JKKK, to the local district level, to the state assembly. For further action, the developer and contractor must follow the guidelines provided by the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP), which is expected to be the mediator between the developer and the community,” says Azhar.
Nidhal Mujahid is just an ordinary man who works as an analyst at Penang Institute. He is inspired by the unique diversity of cultures that exist in Penang.