A few weeks ago I visited Kg Hakka Mantin, a century-old village on the way between Seremban and Kajang.

It was a picnic by the river, organized by the villagers and Rakan Mantin. Since last year, they’ve been holding events like this that allow people to experience the culture and history of Kg Hakka up close.

The future of the village is precarious. Villagers are up against Mega 9 Sdn Bhd, a private developer claiming to have bought the land from the Negeri Sembilan state government. Like Kg Berembang and Kg Buah Pala before it, Kg Hakka is the latest in the recurring tale of forced displacement happening across Malaysia. This one is still on-going; there may yet be a chance to determine how it ends, or rather, how it continues.

The day unfolded in bright sunshine. We moved from house to house, making our way down to the river and the shrine where we had lunch. Throughout, villagers told stories about their lives and the land they’ve lived on for generations.

I didn’t catch the name of this auntie, but I know she’s 74 and doesn’t look it. We were gathered at the Kg Hakka Interpretive Centre – about 20 of us, an equal number of villagers and visitors.

She spoke first, in Hakka and Mandarin, which was translated into English by the few who could understand all three. She remembered growing up alongside the nearby tin mine, and being absolutely forbidden to go there.

The Interpretive Centre is well named. Oral history isn’t neat and linear, the way it’s laid out in textbooks. The gaps get filled by others and by the imagination. It’s history as a collaborative and continuous process.

In my utopia, all Information Centers are replaced with Interpretive ones.


This is Jun Kit’s grandmother – Madam Yap, 85 years old. Her house is actually in the Cantonese village adjacent to Kg Hakka. The two communities have always been close.

Once upon a time, she transported coal on bicycle, tapped rubber, raised pigs, brewed soy sauce, and had 6 children. Eventually, she moved with them to the city.

After the picnic, Jun Kit and I accompanied her as she went around calling on old friends – a merry and moving experience. The ties of friendship and community forged in this place have lasted longer than I’ve been alive.


Chong Tze Yaw, Kg Hakka residents committee chairman. The Interpretive Center is set up in a house belonging to the Chong family, which has been in Kg Hakka for 6 generations.

‘It’s not about money or compensation, but tradition and history. We’ve got hundred year-old temples and houses, a 90 year-old school. There’s so much here, we don’t want to let it go. Thank you for coming today to support us’.


Grandpa Chong. He was in Standard 2 when the Japanese invaded Malaya. As a young man, he began work laying pipes at the dredge mine. He got into an accident 2 weeks into the job and never went there again.



The route on the way to the river was strewn with trash. Old furniture, mattresses, broken glass, an altar – all manner of flotsam and debris lay there rotting in the undergrowth.

Whatever the differences between urban and rural life, rubbish is one thing we have in common.



Sungai Setul. 100 million years ago, it and other rivers brought tin rich alluvial soil down from the surrounding Galla and Setul hills into the Mantin valley. These hills lie at the foot of the Titiwangsa mountains on the southernmost west side.

The history of Kg Hakka is also the history of tin mining, itself foundational to the history of Malaya. It dates back to the 1800s, when Chinese immigrants came to mine the highly priced tin ore that flooded the western foothills of the peninsula. Tussles between Chinese towkays and Malay sultans for this treasure gave the British an excuse to intervene and secure their colonial foothold.

Years ago, I memorized a mass of disparate geographic, historical and economic facts to pass school exams. I felt them finally start to arrange themselves into a coherent picture in my mind…



Lunch was at a shrine next to the river. Samy is the caretaker. He sleeps there, and wakes up at 4am everyday to clean the place. People come from all over Mantin to pray, give offerings, and ask for lottery numbers.


Many villagers contributed something for lunch – yam cake, steamed chickpeas, fresh nangka. This Auntie cooked meehoon and chicken curry. It was so good. She was wearing bright pink shirt with flowers all over it.


This auntie was so full of character I had to draw her. She declared that she was going to cook two of her own chickens for the next event!


I brought jelly dyed with bluepea flowers for the picnic. The aunties were curious about the deep blue colour, and we chatted about natural food dye as far as my broken Mandarin would allow.


When I arrived at Kg Hakka, I passed someone lying on the floor, pressed up against the front of an empty house. At first I thought it was a dead body, but then saw it heave gently, breathing. I walked on.

I passed him again on my way back. Now he was standing up, his left hand grabbing his crotch as he stared ahead with empty eyes. Around him was a strange display – rows of used plastic lighters arranged on piles of gathered dirt. The image haunts my mind. I wish would have have stopped and said hello, but I was chicken shit.


What’s a Chinese village without dogs? They’re suspicious of strangers, but confidence is the key. By the end of the day, I’d learned to stride pass them like I belonged there.


The best thing you can do for Kg Hakka Mantin is to take part in their activities, and yay for this, because they are fun and will make you happy.

Join the Rakan Mantin FB group for updates. 

The next event will be ‘Grandpa’s Era’ Bicycle Carnival on Sunday, 8 June 2014, 10am – 2pm.