KAMPUNG CHETTI — The Malaysian states of Penang and Malacca are home to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but now a 600-year-old village in Malacca is under threat from a high-rise development and highway project.
About 300 people live here in Kampung Chetti, the heart of the Chettis community whose heritage can be traced back to South India. Their ancestors came here 600 years ago as traders, and since then they have intermarried with the locals and have created a strong bond with the other Malaysian races, says resident SK Pillay.
“We can mix very well with the Chinese, we can mix very well with the Malays, and even the locals,” Pillay says.
Although many of their young people have moved way, they have kept their traditions alive and have built a heritage museum, which has helped make the village a popular tourist spot. But the private development next door of a 22-story condominium and a 100-foot road through the village are threatening this. Though the government has vowed the project will not directly affect the historic village, residents like Pillay are not convinced.
“Just imagine a high-rise building — a 22-story, three-block building — next to the temple, a very, very old temple,” Pillay says. “It was built in the early 1800s and next to the village. We foresee that once the building is up, the whole village, the ambience will be gone.”
Since 2012 they have been fighting to stop the development. Their battle gained international media attention when a literary group based in the capital stepped in and organized events for them. “We didn’t want to stay quiet,” says activist Uthaya Sankar. “We made a racket. Our racket wasn’t through a demonstration, but we said we wanted to give our strength to the people there so they can have a voice.”
Chetti people — Photo: Chetti Melaka Faebook page
The villagers trace their lineage to the first settlers that came from Southern India, but for them Malaysia is very much home. “Some say go back to India, go back to India” one says. “We’ve got to be frank. We got nobody there. We got nothing we know about India. We got no blood relation. There is no village for us. Our village is here. This is the only village we’ve got.”
And for now their historic village is surrounded by a blue metal wall while construction continues behind it.