(Review) Kampung Boy – LAT – The Story of Rural Malay Childhood

Without a doubt, Kampung Boy is a masterpiece comic/cartoon/illustrated book by the legendary Malaysian cartoonist LAT, the pen name of Datuk Muhammad Nor Khalid. Originally published in Malaysia in 1979, this book reminds me of the animated TV series Ipin & Upin which reached its peak of popularity around 2008, at least in Indonesia. I have to apologize for this reverse reference. We can probably even say that Ipin & Upin was inspired by this simple Malay life as portrait in Kampung Boy.

The book, framed as a memoir of rural childhood, presents a typical series of events in the life of a Malay Muslim young boy. It starts with the story of the boy’s birth in the hand of his own grandmother, who is an official kampong midwife with its subsequent rituals, such as the shaving ceremony. As the boy grows a bit older, his father sends him to learn to read the Koran at the house of the kampong Koran teacher. Also important (even across the strait among the non-Malay Indonesian) is the circumcision ceremony.

What we definitely cannot miss is the fact that there is the tin mining company and its operation near the kampong of our main character. While LAT doesn’t give any negative or positive comments on the mining company, we can easily see that the company’s expanding operation is a threat to the simple kampong life. The book ends with a grim note of the boy’s fear for no longer having a kampong to return to if the company really finds tin in his kampong.

I really want to comment on the humor and the details of the illustrations, but I’m not sure I’m ready to share it at the moment. This book is for sure strong with giggle-inducing illustration and shockingly honest details (details that don’t otherwise get presented verbally). There are also a number of tongue-in-cheek presentations of incidents in the character’s childhood that still stay in my head.

Without further due, let me drop a page from the book here:

The cost of education
The cost of education

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