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Kampong Ayer Brunei: The Petrodollar Water Village

by on January 10, 2010

I came to this village 2 weeks after the fire incident.

It is a curse. Each year, part by part, houses in Kampong Ayer were caught on fire and burnt down. The world largest water village – that how it was coined – shrinking in size with no mercy.

At a glance, it seems as slum stilt and floating houses at the water bodies. In fact, most household – if not each – owns cars that were parked ashore. “It is normal to have at least of three cars for each household here”, a blue-collar worker admitted the condition of Brunei addiction toward petrodollar vehicle.

Do not even bother about the sustainability of life support system. The settlement exterior and structures might be dubious but the utilities are striking – each house is equipped by AC and satellite antenna.

One might say that this phenomena is a ‘luxurious slum’. With the oil based economic power, government supports premium urban services starting from education, electricity, sewerage, to internet. In the heart of water bodies, they even erected a museum as a memento mori monument of pride of life above the water.

The village floats behind and around the national icon, the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. It was not something to be hidden or concealed. The monarchy government situates this village as a tourism spot as an anticipation toward the depletion of oil reserves within the next decades. Water taxis or tambang are easily spotted around this area at which Kampong Ayer community works as the boat driver.

Built form intervention toward this village has proven to be unsuccessful. Since the community is reluctant to be relocated, in 2007, an ambitious government plan to modernize the settlement design was halted.

Some of them, however, voluntarily moved to different housing project subsidized by the government. The question remains. What would happened to this village once the oil reserves are depleted?

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