Kampung Selamat: A Resilient Village Inspiring in its Embrace of Economic Change

By Pan Yi Chieh

June 2022 FEATURE
main image
Seu Teck Sean Tong.

KAMPUNG SELAMAT IS one of the few Chinese villages in Seberang Perai Utara. Over the decades, its transformation of economic activities bears witness to the dynamism inherent in small villages of its kind.

The Village’s Growth

Located at Tasek Gelugor, Kampung Selamat sits at the edge of Seberang Perai Utara. Its east and north sides border the villages of Kedah – Padang Serai and Kampung Pinang Tunggal respectively, known for the cultivation of paddy and vegetables.

Kampung Selamat was formed after the Second World War, when many Chinese gradually migrated from neighbouring areas.[1] By the 1980s, Kampung Selamat occupied 1,370 acres, holding 500 households and 10,000 residents in total, around 90% of whom were Teochew Chinese.[2]

In the early days, the village was divided into three parts, from north to south, namely the Nibong Tebal area, the Kepala Batas area and the Taiwan area. The naming indicated the early connections of the villagers to places and incidents. For example, the Taiwan field (area) was so named to commemorate a Taiwanese in the Japanese army who helped the village produce charcoal during the Japanese Occupation.[3]

Kampung Selamat’s design and layout, especially its household spaces, are in a well-organised square shape. This was directly influenced by the political climate at the end of the 1940s, when new villages were created to foil communist activities. Kampung Selamat was categorised under Kampung Rangkaian, which relocated Chinese people living outside the boundary to a centralised village. [4]

The centre of the village is on the seventh street (out of 10 streets) where public facilities are located. These include a wet market, a primary school, kindergartens and a police station. Several temples have also been established around the village. Among them, Seng Hong Beow, established in 1967, is the oldest temple in Kampung Selamat, and in fact in Tasek Gelugor.

The temple-court of Seng Hong Beow used to be an important place for public events such as theatres.

Transformation: From Pig Farming to Manufacturing

Being a remote little town at the edge of Penang, Kampung Selamat is not known to many despite being one of the main pig farming areas in the state. Meat produced from the village is supplied not only to Penang, but also to other states in the country, including Perak, and to KL.

For decades, the pig farming industry has been the lifeline of the villagers. This means that the pig farmers’ living spaces often intersected with pig farms, and enduring the distasteful parts of pig farming, such as the stench, often from pig manure, as well as the intensive labour involved have become part of their daily lives. It was common to have a pigpen set up beside or at the back of one’s house.

Up until recent decades, animal husbandry, including raising chickens and pigs, still made up a large part of the village’s economic activities. It was recorded that in the mid-1980s, the number of pigs raised by the households ranged from dozens to thousands; meanwhile, households raised from 3,000 to 50,000 chickens.[5]

Unfortunately, in 1998 and 1999, a sudden outbreak of the Nipah virus dealt a heavy blow to the country’s swine industry. It resulted in more than 100 human fatalities and tremendous financial losses to the industry.[6] As one of the main pig farming areas in Penang, Kampung Selamat was deeply affected. Many villagers still vividly remember the sadness they felt burying the corpses of dozens of pigs. For many, the grief is not just because of the heavy financial loss, but also from the sudden separation from one’s livestock animals. Some villagers were bankrupted and left the pig farming industry for good.

Since then, like other parts in the mainland, Kampung Selamat has gradually transitioned to more manufacturing-based activities.

To view it in a broader context, the devastating outbreak of the Nipah virus has fundamentally changed the country’s swine industry. It revealed a pressing need to modernise the industry by moving away from traditional farms to closed-house systems. This is not only better for the environment and nearby communities, but also reduces the risk of infectious diseases.

Modern Pig Farming at Kampung Selamat.

Always resilient in the face of societal changes, Kampung Selamat’s pig farmers, too, are adjusting to the shift. According to Wong Soon Ping, Kampung Selamat’s Majlis Pengurusan Komuniti Kampung (MPKK) chairman, “Currently, pig farmers in our village are working hard to adapt to the transition. Even though the number of pig farmers have been reduced to 60 households, the number of pigs has increased to around 130,000.” Acknowledging that it would take a lot of effort to communicate and implement the changes in the pig farming industry, he nevertheless feels a sense of optimism toward its development in the village.  

Mr. Wong Soon Ping, Kampung Selamat’s chairman of Majlis Pengurusan Komuniti Kampung (MPKK). Photo by: Wong Soon Ping

Future Challenges and Opportunities

Kampung Selamat has a current population of around 3,500 locals and 2,500 foreign workers to support various labour activities. For decades, living in a close-knit community has fostered a strong sense of camaraderie and grit to weather challenges together. In the early 1970s, a youth organisation, Persatuan Belia Kg. Selamat S.P.U., was established by the younger generation of the village to support the village’s development, such as through advocating the importance of education, as well as the introduction of various edifying activities. Until today, these establishments remain important to the villagers’ daily lives.  

Kampung Selamat demonstrates a clear example of a food farming village’s transformation into a manufacturing-based village. “Currently, the village’s industrial activities have surpassed pig farming activities,” adds Wong. More specifically, there are over 100 factories in the village with the majority of them being involved in the wood-related industry, such as furniture-making. However, having escaped the stench of pigs that has plagued villagers for decades, this new form of enterprise comes with its own pollution.

Throughout the years, many villagers have gradually moved out of the village into less polluted areas nearby. However, many still commute daily to the village for work or to look up old friends. With the resilience and perseverance of its villagers, there is little doubt that Kampung Selamat will continue to thrive.      

Note: The author would like to express her gratitude to Lim Sok Swan who generously shared with her the social lives and personal stories of her hometown, Kampung Selamat.


[1] 林應發 Lim Ying Fa, 1985, 本村的發展及其演變Our Village’s Development and Evolution, Pp.10-11. 青年會成立12周年紀念特刊12th Anniversary of Youth Organisation。威北平安村青年會PERSATUAN BELIA KG. SELAMAT S.P.U.

[2]Ibid, Pp.10-11

[3] Ibid, Pp.10-11

[4] Ho Kee Chye, 2020, From Controlled to Self-Governance: The Development and Status Quo of The Chinese New Villages in Malaysia, Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture, Vol. 8, No. 1; P.52.

[5] 林應發 Lim Ying Fa, 1985, 本村的發展及其演變Our Village’s Development and Evolution, Pp.10-11. 青年會成立12周年紀念特刊12th Anniversary of Youth Organisation。威北平安村青年會PERSATUAN BELIA KG. SELAMAT S.P.U.

[6] Looi Lai-Meng, Chua Kaw-Bing, 2007, Lessons from the Nipah virus outbreak in Malaysia. Malays J Pathol 29(2):63-7. PMID: 19108397.

Pan Yi Chieh

is a research analyst at Penang Institute who was born in Taiwan but now lives in Penang. She is proud to be nurtured by the two beautiful islands she regards as home.