Understanding the Meaning of the Southeast Asian Term of “Kampong” / “Kampung”

Understanding the Meaning of the Southeast Asian Term of “Kampong” / “Kampung”

Kampong (or kampung) is a term in Southeast Asia which has different meanings in each region. In general, kampong means the “village” in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapor and a “port” in Cambodia. 

An English word of compound, which means “a fenced or walled-in area containing a group of buildings and especially residences,” etymologically derived ultimately from the Malay-Indonesian word kampung or kampong, probably entering English via Dutch or Portuguese. 


Kampong or kampung is the third and lowest administrative division of Brunei. It is headed by a village head (ketua kampung). 

Kampongs have an important communal role in Brunei. Usually, a village has a balai raya or dewan kemasyarakatan, the local equivalent of a community centre. As a predominantly Musllim country, kampongs in Brunei usually have mosques that serve to carry out Friday prayers. 

One of the famous kampongs in Brunei is Kampong Ayer. It comprises neighborhoods of traditional houses, schools and mosques near the capital’s city centre. The uniqueness of this kammpong is that it was built on stilts above the Brunei River. 

Kampong Ayer is believed to have been inhabited for several centuries. The most well known historical record is arguably the account by Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian explorer, on his visit to Brunei as part of the Magellan fleet in 1521. 


In Khmer, kampong means “port” or “harbor”. 

In Cambodia, there are four provinces with the name “kampong”, namely Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Speu, and Kampong Thom. 

The word kampong in Cham, a language of Cham people living in Kampong Cham, is shared in other Austronesian language, the Malaysian, and Indonesian, both mean village. 


In Indonesia, kampung generally refers to a village. The equivalent term commonly used in Indonesia is desa, derived from Javanese. 

In several places in Indonesia, we can find kampung referring to a certain ethnic settlement that was usually built during the Dutch colonial era, such as Kampung Ambon (Ambonese village) in Jakarta, Kampung Arab (Arab village) in Surakarta, and others. 

Some kampungs are designations for business-based centers, such as the Kampung Batik Trusmi as batik production center in Cirebon, the Kampung Dodol Betawi as dodol Betawi confection center in Jakarta, and many others. 

There are kampungs in Indonesia which have their own uniqueness, for example, Kampung Naga in Tasikmalaya Regency, West Java, which still preserves Sundanese traditions. 


In Malaysia, a kampung is determined as a locality with 10,000 or fewer people. Since historical times, every Malay village came under the leadership of a penghulu or village chief, who has the power to hear civil matters in his village. 

A Malay village typically contains a mosque or surau, paddy fields, or orchards and wooden Malay houses on stilts. It is common to see a cemetery near the mosque. There’s barely any proper roads, but just regular dirt roads for village people to travel between kampongs.


There are several Malay kampongs to be found in Singapore, but many have been affected by development and modernization. 

One of the popular kampongs in Singapore is Kampong Glam. The neighborhood and ethnic enclave located north of the Singapore River, in the planning are of Rochor, known as the Malay-Muslim quarter. 

In this area there are various street names, there are various street names, accessories, and building installations with Middle Eastern themes. However, development plans for Kampong Glam have been controversial.


    • Penghulu and Ketua Kampongs: Relevancy and Challanges in Brunei Darussalam (Li, L. P., 2018) 
    • Road Map and Street Index of Brunei Darussalam (Syarikat Minyak Brunei Shell, 1997) 
    • European Sources for the History of the Sultanate of Brunei in the Sixteenth Century (Nicholl, R., 1975) 
    • Bausastra Jawa-Indonesia (Prawiroatmodjo, S., 2016) 
    • Kampung Dodol Betawi (Koran Tempo, 2016) 
    • Whose Kampong is This? (CNA Insider YouTube, 2017) 

This article is collaboration between SEA Heritage  & History >< >< Asian SEA Story

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