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One morning we joined a walking tour of Kampong Glam. Kampong means village, while Glam is the name of a tree that used to grow here and was used by locals for all sorts of purposes. Much of the area was originally swap land and the first settlements before land reclamation were on stilt houses. This area is the Muslim centre of Singapore and contains many building now preserved as part of Singapore's heritage. During the tour we went to a number of traditional shop houses built during the early British development of Singapore. It was a committee under the direction of Raffles that set up various quarters in the city for the different ethnic communities, hence China Town, Little India and Kampong Glam. Islam had travelled to South East Asia with Arabs trading on the spice route and most of the Muslims in Singapore are from Malay descent. Malaysia is an Islamic country. The Malays though have integrated many of their old traditions within their Islamic faith. This area of the city therefore has developed from a mix of different backgrounds
One of the first shops we went to was a specialist in antique artefacts including Keris (pronounced Kris). The Keris is a traditional short sword or dagger given to boys on puberty by throughout the region as a symbol of manhood. It usually has a thin wavy blade and was used as a stabbing weapon so the attacker could stab through the ribs and cause maximum damage. Many Singaporeans still have Keris but thy are not allowed to wear them in public.
This picture shows our group with our guide to the right of Andy.
We then moved on to Bussorah Street, which leads up to the Sultan's Mosque, with the Gold Dome. A mosque has been on the site since the 1830's, the current mosque is the largest in Singapore and was built in 1928 by architect Denis Santry from Ireland. The black band under the dome is made up of the bottoms of glass bottles. It is thought that these are here in tribute to the many poor members of the community who contributed to the fundraising for the construction of the mosque by collecting glass bottles for the refund money.
The shop houses show a feature of the old building of the first floor over hanging allowing a five foot walk space in front of the shop. The shops used to be very crowded and could house two or three families in them onwards of 30 people.
In other shop, a collector's paradise, demonstrated an old fashioned cash till. Shop keepers would hang a tin can with a bell underneath from a pulley on the ceiling. It as counterweighted by a bottle, or a second cash tin at the other end of the shop. The shop keeper would lower the tin to take cash in and out. The bell would act as a warning if anyone was tampering with the tin.
Among other items in the shop included this small wooden house. This was an old film shower. The owner would carry it on the back of a cart and people could pay to view through one of the small windows. You can just see that watching 200 foot of the film would cost you 20 cents.
We then moved on to a Haj shop. For the region, Singapore became a common stopping point for pilgrims on the way to Mecca for the Hajj, and this is still the case today. This shop sells the items that pilgrims require for their trips. These include a simple white towelling robe, money belt and skull cap. When the pilgrim arrives in Mecca they will dress just in the white robes so there is no element of showing off wealth, everyone is at the same level.
The owner of the shop is also an expert perfume mixer. These perfumes though contain no alcohol, like those we usually see, so Muslims can easily use then. He even had his own version of Channel No 5
We then went into the mosque and saw the prayer hall, though we could not enter that section. Some members of the group were asked to put on robes if they were wearing shorts or the ladies had short sleeved tops.
This building, the Istana Kampong Glam (Kamopng Glam Palace) is now a Malay cultural centre but used to be a royal residence, built in the mid 19th century. Through the various treaties since Raffles arrived, with Sultan Hussein Shah and his descendant, for the control of Singapore and its move into Independence, the descendants of the Royal family still stake a claim to the property. This is still being argued in the court, however when the Government took over the building a few years ago to convert it too a heritage centre it had fallen into disrepair and has now been restored.
Near the mosque is a cemetery which is believed to hold the graves of past members of the Royal family. Possibly from before the arrival of Raffles. The guide said that when her company was first preparing the tours none of the locals knew much of about the cemetery. Research was difficult as the graves are not marked with any names, wihch is traditional here. All the indicate is flat stones for a male and round stones for a female. One stone is placed at the head and one at the feet, thus if they are close together it will be a child. They did though find an early British map that indicated a burial ground of Malay prince.
Yellow is often used as an indicator of high status. It is thought that some member of the family may have done some maintenance but generally it is in poor condition. The land is earmarked for development, so they are not sure if the site will last as it is.
The tour was very interesting providing access to the shops and information that we would otherwise not have had.
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