Making Mantin

02 August 2018

In 2014, Kampung Hakka, Mantin, found itself in a tussle with private developers. While many of its residents have left town, the remaining ones continue to preserve the town’s rich and diverse history.

At Kampung Hakka in Mantin, sunlight spills between the gaps and crevices of rotting roofs. Decrepit wooden houses line each narrow street, emptied out of the clamour and activity of residents. At the forefront of the village, two signboards rest amid tangled and overgrown weeds. One reads “Kg. Hakka” and another, “Save 100 Years Kg. Hakka Zon Warisan.”

Today, little remains of Kampung Hakka, save a few still-standing wooden houses. The winding routes in the village are strewn with rubbish, broken furniture, and wood and brick debris. Dogs roam around in packs looking for scraps of food or a place to rest. From the estimated 300 families that once called Kampung Hakka home, fewer than 20 households remain. In 2014, villagers found themselves enmeshed with Mega 9 Sdn Bhd, a private developer claiming to have bought the land, thus evicting many of its residents within too short a notice.

However, the story of Kampung Hakka is not merely one of decay, but of defiance and determination in keeping Mantin’s history alive.

The history of Kampung Hakka is a story of immigration and tin mining – a foundational narrative of the history of Malaya. The conception of the town dates back to the early 1800s, when Chinese immigrants came to mine the precious tin ore that saw a boom in demand across the globe. Hastening Mantin’s economic boom was the opening of the KTM railroad from Kuala Lumpur to Seremban.

During this period, other communities began to trickle in to Mantin. Among them were the Sikhs, who were first employed as guardsmen in the mines. British miners were also brought in large numbers to man the dredgers in Mantin. This brought about the construction of Mantin’s first catholic church – a chalk-white, neo-Gothic structure that imposes its presence just across the street from Kampung Hakka. Erected in 1901, the Church of St. Aloysius remains a place of worship for many of the Catholics in the village.
Today, Mantin is slowly gaining momentum with the occasional weekend crowd, cyclists and riders alike paying a visit to the historic town.

At a small square set up in town, Tintin, the popular character from Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin colours the walls of derelict buildings, adding colour to this once sleepy town.

Twenty-four-year-old artist Kweh Zi Jian painted the murals, and effort which was applauded during his visit to the town. Another effort is Rakan Mantin, an independent and self-funded group of friends, artists and activists. The group’s founder, Victor Chin hosts walking tours, and has held various independent exhibitions in the past, as he works alongside the Kampung Hakka community to help safeguard the village’s historic and cultural landscape.

While many of the residents have moved to other towns or to neighbouring villages, some remain, and you can find traces of the Hakka village’s history at the heart of Pusat Penjaja Mantin.

Here, you’ll find patrons mingling about at their usual spots. Groups of elderly men and women congregate for their daily catch-up over coffee and toast, content with the habits of their forefathers. Home to the town’s beloved delicacies such as yong tau foo, wantan mee and woon chai koh (steamed rice cakes), Pusat Penjaja Mantin remains a sacred microcosm of Mantin’s resilient community.

Address: Kampung Hakka, 71700 Mantin, Negeri Sembilan.

Text and photos by Lillian Wee

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