Let’s Talk Heritage: Preserving Place Names for their Cultural and Historical Contexts; Kampung Kerinchi – A Case in Point

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The print and social media was all abuzz following the proclamation ceremony on 19 January 2019, when the urban settlement of Kampung Kerinchi which started in 1870s was declared to return to its original name, thus shedding its ‘up-market’ alias of “Bangsar South”, which nevertheless remains the name of one of the developments in the area.

Badan Warisan heartily welcomes this move; we believe it is high time Malaysians are more cognisant of the cultural, historical and communal contributions that have made Kuala Lumpur what it is as usually expressed in the original name of a place. We also advocate for the authorities responsible for the naming of areas and roads to take a stronger stand against approving names (and especially name changes) to support the gentrification rationale to ameliorate against the “inferior” connotation of the term “kampung”.

The coordination of geographical naming activities in this country is undertaken by the Malaysian National Committee on Geographical Names (MNCGN), which was established in 2002. At the state level, State Committees on Geographical Names (SCGN) are established to coordinate and implement the guidelines and procedures formulated by MNCGN. For the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, the state committee is chaired by the Secretary General of the Federal Territories Ministry and its members comprise representatives from various government agencies, regulatory and enforcement bodies, including Kuala Lumpur City Hall, as well as private organisations and non-governmental organisations.  This committee decides on the naming of areas, streets, including for new developments in Kuala Lumpur, and where a name is proposed by the developer, the committee takes into consideration the rationale for the name.

Kampung Kerinchi was formerly perceived as a squatter area and over the years much of the land here was bought over by developers, who branded their new developments with names of the more well-heeled neighbourhoods such as Bangsar (and in other areas, Damansara, Kiara, etc.) to widen their attraction.

The names of places do not exist in a vacuum; they have historic context and connections with ties to collective memories, sentiments, feelings and past. The naming of a place presents its identity and it reflects its roots and the communities who first settled in and developed the area. This significance is lost when names of places are changed.

Badan Warisan’s resources show that Kampung Kerinchi’s roots are closely linked to Kampung Abdullah Hukum.  Kampung Abdullah Hukum was opened by Indonesian pioneer Abdullah Hukum, who came to Kuala Lumpur in the mid-1850s from Kerinchi, West Sumatra. Abdullah led the Kerinchi community who had accompanied him here, and eventually settled on Bungsar Road (now Jalan Bangsar) in what had come to be known as Kampung Abdullah Hukum. As an aside, we hope that Kampung Abdullah Hukum does not get “lost” in the regeneration of the area and becomes only known as KL Eco City!

While Kuala Lumpur’s official boundaries up to 1924 included Kampung Abdullah Hukum, it was only enlarged in 1954 to include this area of Kampung Kerinchi. It is noteworthy that Kampung Kerinchi was identified in the Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2000 as an urban renewal or redevelopment area, but its redevelopment in fact goes back to the 1990s, a decade or more before the Bangsar South development started.

Read: Know about the KL’s Cultural, History contribution, urges expert – New Straits Times, 2 February 2019.

Listen also to: Kampung Kerinchi Makes Comeback: a BFM Interview with Elizabeth Cardosa, 22 January 2019. 
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