Upon stepping into Renggam, Johor, a river flows right across the middle of the town, cool breezes sweep over lush greenery on both sides of the riverbank, imparting vitality to the quiet town. Vehicles occasionally whiz pass the clean and spacious roads, residents leading a casual and relaxed pace of life. Rows of shophouses built in the 1930’s stand neatly on the properly planned streets, retaining their original appearance despite being weather-beaten, depicting the rich cultural history of the town.
Surrounded by estates, Renggam seems to be an inconspicuous small town, its former glory barely imaginable. Since development in 1879, Renggam became the British colonial government’s administration centre within Kluang, well-equipped with facilities such as fire station, police station, and courts way before other suburbs. When the west coast railway line operated by the Federated Malay States Railways was fully opened in 1913, one of the stations was situated in Renggam.
Legend has it that the name Renggam came from the Malay word “renggang”, meaning break apart, due to a mountain in Johor being blown apart by the colossal Indonesian Krakatau volcano eruptions. Under the Kangchu system, pioneers migrated from Hainan, China to cultivate gambir and coffee in Renggam. At the beginning of the 20th century, rapid industrial development induced an upsurge in global demand for rubber. Due to Malaya’s natural advantages in rubber cultivation, the British colonial government encouraged British capitalists to grow the rubber production industry, Chinese estate smallholders also acknowledged the trend and converted to rubber planting. As Renggam prospered, Chinese forefathers established community groups such as hometown guild halls and trade associations for mutual assistance. To date, there are at least five active guild halls in Renggam, organizing activities from time to time to promote interaction between members and local residents.
On an elevated land near Renggam township, a leisure club built entirely of solid wood remained in existence. Back then, this was where British expatriates came to party on weekends. Local villagers relished an anecdote where the British Queen once visited this club during a trip to Renggam. As British expatriates left after Malaya gained independence, a Chinese smallholder bought the club and opened it up for the public. At present, the club’s interior is well-maintained, however its adjacent tennis court ceased to exist. Residents gather here during their free time to play mahjong or billiards, getting along in harmony regardless of race.
Both Chinese pioneers and British expatriates each brought their religion into Renggam. The goddess Mazu is worshipped at the magnificent century-old Tian Hou Gong temple. Situated one kilometre away at the pinnacle of Renggam, is Our Lady of Fatima chapel built by the British, immaculately overlooking the small town for six decades. The chapel hosts two annual celebrations, which is Feast Day in mid-May and Christmas in December. Although these two religions emerged separately, they share the core belief of mutual care. This is probably where the honest and simple lifestyle of Renggam folks originated.
Chinese forefathers who settled down in Renggam were concerned about the education of future generations, hence schooling became a necessity. SJK (C) Chin Chiang in Renggam has been established for nearly a century, with as many as 800 students at its prime between the 1960’s to 70’s. However as global rubber prices dropped steeply after the 70’s, several estate owners replanted palm trees, and younger generations moved to the city in search of jobs, leaving mostly old folks behind. Facing the dilemma of declining student numbers, SJK (C) Chin Chiang officially became a micro primary school since last year, with less than 60 current students.
Having experienced a giant wave of development, the pace of life in Renggam subdued along with the lull of the rubber industry, becoming a quaint little town free from bustle. Deviated from expansions such as tertiary education, industrial parks, and highways, life in Renggam is pleasant and carefree.
Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen
有你 UNI Production
Producer : Mok Yii Chek
Coordinator : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang
Drone : Daniel Lim
Video Editor : Michael Lerk
Production Assistant : Michael Lerk
Music : Dyathon – Memories from YouTube
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