A vil­lage steeped in his­tory

New Straits Times - - Jom! -

ICAME to know about Kam­pung Ayer Salak from a fel­low trav­eller head­ing south dur­ing a re­cent trip to Me­laka. He told me of a very old church that was built some 130 years ago in a pre­dom­i­nantly Chi­nese-Catholic vil­lage. Guided by Waze, I was brought right to the grounds of the St Mary’s Church in the vil­lage.

Although the morn­ing sun had cast won­der­ful shad­ows on the main premises, the old church build­ing on the western end of the field was more in­ter­est­ing as a paint­ing sub­ject.

This old church has two spires, each with a cross at the apex. It is a small but sturdy build­ing con­structed of rust-coloured la­t­erite rocks sim­i­lar to those found in old forts that I had seen, such as the A’ Famosa and Fort Su­pai in Kuala Linggi.

Kam­pung Ayer Salak lies about 30km off the NorthSouth high­way from the Sim­pang Am­pat exit.

The vil­lage was a jun­gle in the mid-1800s, ac­cord­ing to a story in a mag­a­zine pub­lished by the Church of St Fran­cis Xavier, Me­laka.

The 1995 pub­li­ca­tion men­tioned of a French mis­sion­ary namedPierre Hen­riBoriewho built a set­tle­ment here in the late 1850s.

When Borie went home to France in 1867 be­cause of ill-health, an­other mis­sion­ary Lu­dovic Julil Galmel car­ried on his work. The lat­ter built this old church and two schools in 1886. When Galmel died in Au­gust 1899, he was buried here and a tomb­stone was carved by vil­lagers to re­mem­ber his con­tri­bu­tion to the vil­lage. This over a-cen­tury-old church was built by French mis­sion­ary Lu­dovic Julil Galmel in 1886.

The pop­u­la­tion of Ayer Salak was given a boost in the 1920s when Chi­nese Catholics (mainly Teochew) from China mi­grated to this vil­lage to es­cape war and nat­u­ral dis­as­ters in their home­land.

Join­ing the orig­i­nal set­tlers, they worked their farms and tapped rub­ber for a liv­ing.

To­day, there are about 200 house­holds in this quiet en­clave in Me­laka. Tucked away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of the state’s tourist belt, many of the houses here are still in their al­most-pris­tine con­di­tion, built with tim­ber and had large front yards. There are also quite a few brick houses.

Places like the old church and an old fort-like house — dubbed by vis­i­tors as “red stone house” — just op­po­site the church of­fers a glimpse into the Ayer Salak’s past.

The “red stone” house was be­lieved to be have been built about the same time as the old church and was used to house the church’s care­tak­ers. It is now closed for re­pairs.

When I was there, I no­ticed a fundrais­ing ban­ner an­nounc­ing ef­forts to raise money to re­fur­bish the old church, as well as the red stone house.

A short dis­tance from the church, half

a kilo­me­tre up an in­cline into the heart of the vil­lage, lies the St Mary’s Glo­ri­ette which was built by vil­lagers in 2007. Re­li­gious ser­vices are held here on Tues­day and Fri­day evenings.

Down the road from here is the com­pound of what used to be the Con­vent of the Holy In­fant Je­sus Pri­mary school un­til the late 1990s. It is now the Mont­fort Youth Cen­tre which of­fers vo­ca­tional train­ing to poor and un­der­priv­i­leged youths.

Not far from the St Mary’s Glo­ri­ette, by the road junc­tion, is an old sundry shop op­er­at­ing from a sin­gle-storey tim­ber shop­house.

This fam­ily busi­ness, I was in­formed, is be­ing run by a fourth gen­er­a­tion mem­ber. Owner Woon Boon Siang, 75, in­her­ited the busi­ness from his grand­fa­ther and he has since passed the baton to his 50-some­thing son.

Step­ping into the shop, which was named Cheong Huat, is like step­ping back into time. Goods from a for­got­ten era such as the China-made Ea­gle brand shavers, Ve-Tsin food flavour­ing and Gold Coin brand face pow­der cakes can still be found here.

Speak­ing to Kam­pung Ayer Salak vil­lage head­man Lim Khen Hong, 54, I un­der­stand

One of the sev­eral tra­di­tional tim­ber houses in the vil­lage. A worker check­ing on his charges at the fish farm. that plans are afoot to pro­mote the vil­lage’s tourism po­ten­tial.

One of the ef­forts un­der­taken re­cently was to beau­tify this very clean vil­lage and il­lu­mi­nate the main road into Air Salak us­ing dec­o­ra­tive lanterns dur­ing ma­jor fes­ti­vals.

Wan­der­ing around the neigh­bour­hood, I come upon sev­eral veg­etable farms, or­chards and even a fish farm that rears gi­ant snake­heads (toman) that will be sold to restau­rants. All of these, in­clud­ing the quiet charm of the vil­lage, are yet-to-be dis­cov­ered tourism prod­ucts.

“In the past, most of the vil­lagers op­er­ated small-scale farms and tapped rub­ber,” Lim tells me.

“To­day, most of the younger gen­er­a­tion pre­fer to work in fac­to­ries nearby the Bukit Ram­bai area. There are some who still work on their farms and oil palm plan­ta­tions but these are mostly the older gen­er­a­tion. The younger gen­er­a­tion prefers to work in big­ger towns that of­fer bet­ter pay.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.