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Kampong Glam

Kampong Glam (c.1830 Campong Gelam), estate, one of 10 sub-zones of the Rochore area located in the central region. Kampong Glam covers 56 acres of land located to the east of the 19th century European town in Singapore, between the Rochore River and the sea. On 7 July 1989, Kampong Glam was gazetted a conservation area, and will become a “Malay Heritage Centre” preserved as a historic part of town.

Kampong Glam was land set aside for Sultan Hussein Mohammed Shah and 600 family members in 1823, upon his signing the treaty ceding Singapore to the East India Company. He instructed the Temenggong Abdul Rahman to build his palace here – a large attap-roofed istana or “palace”. Aside from the Sultan’s family, residents of the area included the Bugis, Arabs, Javanese and Boyanese, and by 1824, at least 1/3 of the residents were Chinese. Immigrants of Muslim faith who were allocated to reside at Kampong Glam. These migrants settled amongst their own ethnic groups, which gave rise to different “mini-kampongs” such as Kampong Bugis, Kampong Java and Kampong Malacca. Raffles himself donated S$3,000 for a “respectable mosque” which served the community until 1924 when the current landmark, the Sultan Mosque was built. The location of Kampong Glam caused a rift between Raffles and Farquhar, the latter believing that the land would be better used as the island’s business centre. Kampong Glam was developed in 1831 by 200 convict workers in 8 months, at a total cost of S$500.

At the founding of Singapore, there was a village by the sea where the Orang Laut from the Glam tribe resided. According to Wah Hakim, this was known as Seduyong before it gained the name Kampong Glam, after the tribal group of the Orang Laut. The bark of the Glam Tree was used by the Orang Laut to make awnings and sails. Its timber was often used for constructing boats and served as firewood. Its fruit was ground and used as pepper – mercha bolong; and its leaves boiled and concocted into the Cajeput Oil, a medication for rheumatism and cramps.

By the 1920s, the Kampong had descended into notoriety so much so that it was famed more for its red-light district than its distinctive community. The elegant, Moorish-influenced Sultan Mosque was rebuilt in 1924, and continues to be an important beacon for Muslims.

The phenomenal presence and influence of the early Arab migrants are registered on street names like Muscat, Bagdad, Bussorah etc., all namesakes of Arabian cities. The wealthiest of these Arab familes have contributed to the building and maintenance of mosques and religious schools, the most notable of these were the Alsagoff Arab School (1912) and the Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah School.

On 7 July 1989, the historic district of Kampong Glam was gazetted a conservation area. In 1993, the Singapore Government first announced its plan to develop the Istana Kampong Glam, as it was in the 16 ha Kampong Glam Conservation area. Residents were informed of this and given ample time to make their own housing arrangements. Then on 12 March 1999 it was announced that the Istana would be converted into a “Malay Heritage Centre”

Key Features
Within the area also stand significant buildings like Bendahara House (1920s) at No. 73, Sultan Gate; and Pondok Java, a drama house where traditional cultural arts of Javanese migrants e.g. Wayang Kulit (“shadow puppet plays”), Wayang Bangsawan (“drama acting”), were performed.

Variant Names
Chinese name:
(1) In Hokkien means Sio Po or “small town”.
(2) Kampong Glam Beach, in Hokkien Twa Che Kha refers to “The foot of the big well”.
There used to be an old well in the middle of the road at Sultan’s Gate.
(3) Sultan’s Gate in Hokkien is known as (a) Ong Hu Khau refers to “The mouth of the Palace ” or (b) Phah Thi Koi refers to “The street of the Iron-smiths.
(4) Sultan Road/Jalan Sultan in Hokkien Sio Po Phah Thi Koi refers to “Small Singapore’s Iron-smiths” street.

Malay name: Kampong Glam refers to “The Glam Tree” (Malaleuca leucadendron from the Greek words melas meaning “black” and leukos meaning “white”).
Indian name: Sultan’s Gate in Tamil is Raja Kottei means “Rajah’s Palace”.