Padians of Brunei's Kampung Ayer

I was having a chat with my mother the other day talking about our visit to the floating market in Thailand when my father was in the diplomatic service. My mother told me that the floating market is strictly more for the tourists coming to Thailand. She said that usually by about 11 when all the tourists have left, the floating market traders would disappear too. There was hardly any local which actually buy the food from them.

So I was thinking why not recreate the padians? Padians, if you are new to this blogsite, have often been mentioned here. They are generally women traders with large hats who used to ply among the houses in the Kampung Ayer but have completely disappeared now. To create a tourism thing, we should hire a few people who will go round plying their wares around the houses. The object is not so much about selling those wares but about them being visible and being tourist attractions.

The history of padians from what I have read so far goes as far back as at least 600 to 700 years ago. They were mentioned in Syaer Awang Semaun where it was mentioned that Pateh Berbai (later to become Sultan Ahmad, the second Sultan) instructed the creation of a floating market called padian which was to be used for selling all sorts of vegetables and commodities. He felt that since the Brunei population was big, it was much more convenient for the traders to sell from boats with each bringing their own goods. And should there be any disputes, the traders can be dispersed easily.

The development of Padians can be linked to the development of Brunei's society. In the much older days, occupational activities denote your rank and status. Fishermen are considered of lower rank but it was them that developed the padians as it was essentially a marketing tool. They first developed around the Kampung Saba up to Kampung Lorong Sekuna area before congregating at where the wharf is currently. Before the wharf, the area was called Labuan Kapal. Labuan or labuhan means to anchor. When that area became busier and eventually a wharf was built, they moved to another area near Kampung Sultan Lama (now completely demolished).

In those days, padians sold almost everything being mini markets on boats including handkerchiefs and shirts. Over time there were many changes. The hats have changed from an umbrella shaped hat described in an 1848 book to becoming much larger and rounder. The boats they used changed from a gubang to the bidar.

The padians were slowly driven out of business first by the building of titian or walkways among the villages. In the older days, the houses are not connected. One has to travel to visit another house by using a small boat. At first the padians used to be able to paddle through the water lanes which divided the various kampungs but the titians while providing connections to the villages and houses made the padians unable to manouver their boats easily. They were also outcompeted by bigger boats operated by Hokkien Chinese male hawkers which came later and later on by the existence of shops. Today the padians have disappeared completely.


Anonymous said…
Another interesting thought of reviving "Padians" just like what Thailand has - why not. May be the Tourism ppl will come up with something for tourists purposes! Just find a suitable place which is already existed and Padians don't have to be at that place all the time - acting purposes. Pity that Kianggeh is no longer in use, if otherwise its a nice place for Padians to do their daily business and for tourists to come and visit!
Unknown said…
As someone who lives in Thailand and recently spent three months in Brunei, let me say that Kampong Ayer has wonderful potential. I fell in love with the place. But it's the rambling walkways that make it so distictive. What you need to do is recreate the traditional crafts and other skills that used to be found in the different villages. Sure, have a floating market too. But it's the traditional skills -- and the sale of traditional, hand-made souvenirs -- that will eventually bring tourists flocking back to see a uniquely preserved environment on water. Where will they stay? They will want to stay over the water, in traditional accommodation. Do it!

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