Imagining Kampung: The Rural and Urban Icons of Malaysia in The Cartoons of Lat
In Malaysia’s city/country dialectic, the idea of the kampung or village has a strong hold over a modernising and highly regulated country, as a place of respite and retreat from an official nation-building agenda disseminated and implied through mainstream media. The kampung or village holds a complex position in Malaysian government narratives of national identity. Kampung imagery enjoys ongoing prominence in the oeuvre of Malaysia’s most influential cartoonist Lat, particularly in his autobiographical pictorial novels reflecting his rural upbringing. The kampung itself is constituted via the medium of Lat’s internationally famous cartoons to a global audience for whom the kampung does not have the immediate point of visceral recognition that it has for Malaysians. Our article looks at how Malaysian national identity was constructed through the stereotypical icon of the kampung and its urban counterparts, in Lat’s cartoons. Lat’s cartooning work has received international recognition, and he has been rewarded with the highest honorific title possible for a civilian in Malaysia (the title Datuk was conferred upon him in 1994). Accordingly, we privilege Lat in this paper, over other popular Malaysian cartoonists. In an attempt to outline how Lat and his cartoons played various roles in depicting visions of the kampung, we briefly explore the role of the media in documenting Malaysian national identity, and introduce Lat. We then explore the urban and rural themes found in a selection of Lat’s work, suggesting that through humour his work has had a unifying effect on Malaysians by recording the urban centre as a part of nation-building, the nostalgia of village life, and changing norms in society marked by religious undertones. We suggest that through entertainment and humour his work has had a unifying effect on Malaysians by recording through images of the kampung reflections on shared urban and rural humour.