KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 — For descendants of Indonesian migrants who started settling down circa 1870s at what is now known as Jalan Pantai Baharu, the area was always known as Kampung Kerinchi ― which was named after their ethnic group.
But roughly seven years ago, the area was increasingly gentrified and renamed Bangsar South by property developers, in an attempt to rub off the prestige of an unrelated suburb to the north known for its affluence and hipness.
Ever since he was elected MP for Lembah Pantai, under which the area falls, Fahmi Fadzil has been hard at work trying to restore the area’s name back to Kampung Kerinchi ― a pledge he first made during his campaign trails.
Today, his dream will finally come true.
“There is a mismatch between a place being sold and touted as Bangsar South with the reality that this was not Bangsar to begin with. Bangsar is north of the Federal Highway on the other side.
“This has never been Bangsar. This has always been Kampung Kerinchi,” Fahmi told Malay Mail in an interview yesterday.
Fahmi said a lot of people have mistakenly assumed that the Federal Highway that cuts through the area has been in existence since day one.
“When the highway was opened in 1956, it effectively split Kampung Kerinchi into half. As developments around Jalan Pantai Baharu intensified, squatters were forced to migrate and finally settled in People's Housing Project units that we see here,” he said.
An official proclamation event will be held this morning, using the Malay word “pemasyhuran”, which carries royal connotation, to publicly mark the area’s both historical and socio-political identity.
“The ceremony will allow us to designate the socio-cultural space that forms what we understand to be Kampung Kerinchi in Kuala Lumpur.
“This does not mean we will obliterate everything that is Bangsar South but the re-emphasis that this area historically and culturally is Kampung Kerinchi,” said Fahmi.
Seemingly pre-empting the collective groan of developers that the area will be called a “kampung”, Malay for “village”, Fahmi said there is nothing to be embarrassed about the name.
“We always have this negative connotation that ‘kampung’ means backwards. It does not necessarily mean backwards.
“The only thing backwards is our mentality. What is the point of having a first-rate city but having poor mentality?” he asked.
Cementing the identity and role of the Kerinchi people
Fahmi said the event is important as a remembrance of the important role that urban pioneers played in forming the capital city Kuala Lumpur.
“In KL, there exists a tug of war. How fast are we developing? Do we forget our sense of identity or where we came from?
“All of this is about dignity, identity and sense of belonging,” he said.
The former theatre performer recalled his fascination with the local Kerinchi, or Kerinchai, dialect that he encountered during his early days of campaigning as an election candidate there last year.
“Prior to GE14, I was doing some work in Lembah Pantai and I was invited to a funeral of a local Kerinchi family. As I was walking out, I realised these people were speaking a particular dialect which I could not understand.
“Then it hit me. It was the Kerinchi dialect which I told myself was a living language still spoken by this small group of people here and that it was a heritage... a treasure to be preserved,” he recalled.
Fast forward, Fahmi said he was deeply affected when a local resident inquired why the local secondary school SMK Seri Pantai that was being upgraded had its address rebranded from Kampung Kerinchi to Bangsar South.
“Locals began to question the name change and a lot of them wanted the original name to reverted,” he said.
When he spoke to Malay Mail last year, Fahmi recalled that a man even cried uncontrollably when talking about the rebranding. The MP said that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) senior officials also disliked the name change.
Fahmi had then hoped that reverting the name could have been done within 100 days of him taking office, but he admitted that his parliamentarian duties and setting up his service centre took up most of his time.
“However it was the engagement with stakeholders which contributed to the delay as I felt it was necessary to give the matter some time before rushing it,” he said.
Welcome back, Kampung Kerinchi
Excited over the proclamation today, Fahmi divulged that response from the locals have been encouraging, although a few have remained on the extreme divides.
Some wish to have the name “Kerinchi” to be consigned to history, while some wish for “Bangsar South” to be completely erased like it was never there, he said.
“I want people in Bangsar and Kampung Kerinchi to rethink of themselves as one community and bridge those gaps between.
“We may be separated by geography but this separation is only geographic in nature and it should not be separated by class, culture or ethnic,” he said.
So, back to original name… what is next then for Kampung Kerinchi?
For starters, Fahmi said there are plans to construct arches at three major entry points into the area ― the Universiti LRT station, the Petronas petrol station at the New Pantai Expressway, and Jalan Pantai Sentral.
“The arches would have a plaque that says 'Selamat Datang ke Kampung Kerinchi, Kayo Di Hati Kamai',” he said.
In the Kerinchi dialect, that phrase is a heart-warming embrace, meaning: “Welcome to Kampung Kerinchi, you are in our hearts.”