When you search for “Popular Tourist Destinations Singapore” in Google, you get the usual suspects – Sentosa, Gardens by the bay, Universal studios etc.
Although these are great destinations by themselves, they don’t show the complete picture of Singapore. Singapore is a very cultural city. For centuries, it has been a major hub with travellers and traders visiting from all over the world.
Some of these traders set-up shop in Singapore and brought their cultures along with them that was established in the city.
An area that is rich in history and culture is Kampong Glam. Doesn’t ring a bell?
Kampong Glam is an area located north of the Singapore river and its history dates back centuries.
This is the history of Kampong Glam.
History of Kampong Glam – The beginning
Kampong stands for village and Glam is the Malay word for Cajeput(Cajeput is a tree that produces essential oils). Glam or gelam is also known as the paperbark tree, which was used for building ships.
Kampong Glam was a fishing village because it was situated in the Rochor River. Sensing its importance, the British arrived.
Development of a Precinct for the Malay Population
When the British took over Singapore in 1819(Ceded by the Sultan to the East India Company), Sir Stamford Raffles let the then Island Chief Temenggong Abdul Rahman and Sultan Hussain Shah to acquire swathes of land. As Kampong Glam was allocated to the Malays, Sultan Hussain and other muslims moved there.
To establish his presence in Kampong Glam, the Sultan built a mosque close to his palace in 1826. The funds for which was requested from the British, which was duly obliged. It was said that Sir Stamford Raffles in his personal capacity gave $3,000 for the construction of the mosque.
A growing village for a growing Malay Community
Apart from the Sultan and his family, the area was also occupied by Arabs, Javanses, Bugis and Boyanese. They created their own smaller Kampongs and named it after their ethnicity like Kampong Bugis, Kampong Java etc.
In the 1900’s, the Muslim community in Kampong Glam grew, and to accommodate so many people, it was decided that a new mosque would come in place of the old one in 1924. Completed in 1928, this mosque is the iconic Sultan Mosque, or Masjid Sultan, that stands till present day.
In 1975, the mosque was designated as a national monument.
The People’s Mosque
Behind this mosque lies a heartwarming story.
The Sultan wanted all Muslims, rich and poor, to have a part in the project. The rich gave their riches, and the poor donated in the only way they could – by collecting used glass bottles.
These bottles were seamlessly incorporated into the design of the mosque, and there they remained to this day in a tale of generosity amidst poverty, and a symbolic reminder that the mosque belonged to all.
Although the mosque is indeed fit for a king, in many ways, this is a mosque for and by the people.
The Sultan Mosque Today
Five times a day, you might be able to hear the melodic Islamic call to prayer, or azan, if you are within the vicinity of the mosque. It continues to serve the Muslim communities in Singapore today. To know about prayer times and other details, visit here.
As per tradition, the official start of Ramadan – the Muslim fasting month – is announced every year at Sultan Mosque. Every Ramadan, there is a great atmosphere around the mosque, with food stalls erected providing tasty food to one and all.
The History of Malay Heritage Centre
The Malays in Singapore go way back, Singapore has had malay kings since the 12th century and all the way till the 1800’s. Sultan Johor is a popular one and was the king from 1819 to 1835.
To celebrate the presence of Malays in Singapore, the Malay Heritage Centre was built. Here’s a brief history about the Heritage Centre.
Back in 1836, the building was a palace that was built as the official royal seat for the Malays. It was built between 1836 and 1843 by Sultan Ali Iskandar Shah.
Unfortunately for the Sultan, he didn’t live in it, because he passed away before the palace was completed. The Sultan’s son Tengku Alam lived there for close to fifty years.
Architectural Style of the Malay Heritage Centre Building
Coming to the style of the building, the architecture was a combination of English, Malay and Singaporean styles making it truly unique. The architect was an Irish man named George Drumgoole Coleman.
Surrounding the palace, was a small village that was the living quarters for the Sultan’s numerous servants and family members.
Ownership of the Building
After Tengku Alam’s death, there was confusion as to whom the rightful owner of the palace was. The case was brought to court and it was decided that the Government of Singapore was the rightful owner of the palace. However the descendants of the Sultan were allowed to stay there well into the late 1990’s.
Restoration work of the palace began in the 1990’s and it was reopened in 2004 as the Malay Heritage Centre. It was also gazetted as a National Monument.
Preservation of Kampong Glam’s history and culture
Kampong Glam’s rich history is kept alive because of monuments such as the Sultan Mosque and the heritage centre. The upkeep of a vibrant Malay community and efforts to preserve the strong heritage in the area has helped Kampong Glam retain its culture.
In Kampong Glam today, there’s a good crowd of Arabs, Malays who have set up cafe’s, perfume shops and carpet shops that are distinctly Arabian. The names of the streets like Bussorah St, Kandahar St are not a new addition. It was approved by municipal commissioners in the year 1910.
The Government of Singapore did a good job in restoring Kampong Glam and brought back its vibrancy and color. This is why, Kampong Glam has attracted many shops in the area and has become quite a shopping and relaxation destination.
Singapore’s cultural identity has been retained because of extensive efforts by the Government to protect the culture and traditions of these areas like Kampong Glam.
For more information on Kampong Glam’s shops, cafes and monuments. Download the Locomole app.