Malaysian Water Villages Show Tsunami’s Don't Happen Often in South East Asia
“There has been a water village continuously on this same site for around a thousand years,” our guide, Arthur Augustine told us.
Article and pictures by M. Maxine George
As the world has discovered via the media, many of the tragic losses, in the devastating Tsunami that hit South East Asia on December 26th , 2004, occurred in the remote villages of those islands whose shores border the Indian Ocean. With the exception of the Thailand resorts, most of those villages are relatively unknown to foreigners.
I had the opportunity to visit three water villages during a visit to Malaysia last year. Two were on the emerald green ocean water, the third approached by land, was over the brown, murky- looking river water. Watching TV and seeing the dreadful devastation caused by the tsunami made me think of those peaceful people and their happy children, who might have been in harm’s way when the massive wall of water wreaked its havoc, bringing so much death and destruction.
“There has been a water village continuously on this same site for around a thousand years,” our guide, Arthur Augustine told us when we visited the Mengkabong Water Village in Sabah. The roofs of the oldest buildings there were thatched; the wooden walls were the weathered grayish-brown of ancient wood. Wooden planks, also on stilts, provided the walkway to get from house to house. We foreigners stepped carefully along those irregular planks, watching as the people went about their daily routine. For the most part we saw only women, children and older men at home during the day. They went about their lives quietly in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Those ancient villages stood in testimony to the fact that tsunamis have not been a common occurrence in that part of the world. Now, we have been told, that in neighbouring countries, many villages, similar to those we saw, and their inhabitants, have totally disappeared in south East Asia’s tsunami. I am happy to be able to report that Peninsular Malaysia is sheltered by the island of Sumatra and not directly exposed to the Indian Ocean; therefore damage from the tsunami was minimal compared to that suffered by their neighbours.
Some of the children were friendly, some reserved but most were curious about their visitors, following us around as we toured their villages. All were accustomed to living with the water, for their homes were built on stilts right over the tidal water. Those children jumped in and out of the water with carefree abandon, as the weather was hot and it was a quick way to cool off. All seemed to swim. I watched a small toddler, hanging onto a tube, floating in the water, being gently rocked by the waves. Most of the children would eagerly pose for pictures, cheerfully holding up a variety of fingers, the meaning of which we were never quite sure.
People throughout the world have been shocked by the massive volume of death and destruction that was created by one stealthy swoop of Mother Nature’s hand. This has been a wakeup call to everyone. We can no longer be complacent about the possibilities of natural disasters. Those people are our neighbours in this global village. We must help the survivors recover from this tragedy, and at the same time, we must do what we can to prepare for the inevitable reoccurrence of Mother Nature’s irascibility, possibly being displayed on our own doorstep next time.
Article and Pictures by M. Maxine George
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