Friday, August 26, 2016

Kampung Simpang Arang

Written by: Chua Kwee Eng (蔡桂英)

In 2012, my mother and I visited my aunt and cousin who live in Johore Bahru, Malaysia. During our visit, my cousin brought us to Kampung Simpang Arang, Gelang Patah, in Johore. This was my first visit to the charcoal kilns at Kampung Simpang Arang. 


During World War Two, my maternal grandfather was here making charcoal and regularly trading with the sea gypsies. Hiding in the mangrove swamps was part of my mother and her siblings lives during the Japanese occupation.

Visiting my maternal grandfather's family charcoal kilns at Sungai Simpang Arang, Kampung Simpang Arang, Gelang Patah, Johor, Malaysia. The person wearing a black shirt and blue jeans is the current owner of the kilns. According to my mother, he is my mother’s father’s cousin brother’s grandson (我妈妈的堂伯的孙子). He is the 3rd generation in the charcoal business. 

Because he is a Singaporean, he is not allowed to harvest mangrove forests in Malaysia. The Orang Asli people have the permit to harvest wood and he purchases the wood from them. He also hires the local Orang Asli to rebuild the old kilns and make the charcoal. New kilns are built of bricks.
(Visiting my maternal grandfather's family charcoal kilns at Sungai Simpang Arang, Kampung Simpang Arang, Gelang Patah, Johor, Malaysia.)

Bakau wood harvested from the mangrove swamps are used for charcoal making. The harvest period for Bakau is about 6 years. The mangrove forests are protected by the Malaysian government.

(Bakau wood harvested from the mangrove swamps for charcoal making at Simpang Arang River, Kampung Simpang Arang, Gelang Patah, Johor, Malaysia)

This is the canal for transporting Bakau wood from the magrove swamps for charcoal making at Simpang Arang River, Kampung Simpang Arang, Gelang Patah, Johor, Malaysia. During my mother's time in the area everyone referred to the lower stream as Duku Kang Lower Kiln, and the upper stream as Duku Kang Upper Kiln. My mother thinks the new names Sungai Tiram Duku and Sungai Simpang Arang came to be after her time there.

(Canal for transporting Bakau wood from the magrove swamps for charcoal making at Simpang Arang River, Kampung Simpang Arang, Gelang Patah, Johor, Malaysia. )

My maternal grandfather's family charcoal kilns at Kampung Simpang Arang, Gelang Patah, Johor, Malaysia. These charcoal kilns were originally built from earth. After World War Two, the construction material for the kilns changed to red bricks which are more durable.

(My maternal grandfather's family charcoal kilns at Kampung Simpang Arang, Gelang Patah, Johor, Malaysia.)

Two abandoned charcoal kilns operated by my maternal grandfather during World War Two. My mother said during her time all kilns were made of earth. The Japanese did not teach them how to construct brick kilns, however they asked my grandfather to build two kilns and make charcoal for them based on their specifications. Their kilns were smaller and not as strong and possibly collapsed a long time ago. The wood they used for charcoal were from the land nearby and not as solid compared to Bakau wood.


(Two abandoned charcoal kilns operated by my maternal grandfather during World War Two. )


A Sea Gypsy boy (Orang Asli Laut Seletar), the indigenous people living in the village at Simpang Arang River at Kampung Simpang Arang, Gelang Patah, Johor, Malaysia. Sea Gypsies in Malaysia were made up of different groups such as Orang Galang, Orang Selatar and Orang Biduanda Kallang. The only commonality they have with the local Malay are some degree of Malay ethnicity. They preferred to live on boats rather than on land. However, the modern sea gypsies are living on land and have changed their live styles. The sea gypsy boy is living with his family in Kampung Orang Asli next to Kampung Simpang Arang.


(A Sea Gypsy boy (Orang Asli Laut Seletar), the indigenous people living in the village at Simpang Arang River at Kampung Simpang Arang, Gelang Patah, Johor, Malaysia)

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