Dear Tanjong Pagar,

When we were small living in Pulau Bawean, every now and then we would receive toys from relatives who had migrated merantau to Singapore. Merantau is the Baweanese cultural practice of temporarily migrating to distant lands in search of work opportunities and to better oneself. The toys were such a thrill and I had it etched in my mind that Singapore was the place I wanted to be when I grew up. Eventually the time came when I was ready to begin a new phase of life. In this new land, I found a home away from home at Pondok Gelam. The Pondok (communal residence) had kept its Bawean traditions and roots and I felt very fortunate that I could still be so connected to my culture.

Community ties are the bedrock of the Bawean community; many families lived together under one roof and we would contribute monthly to pay for shared occasions like festivals, weddings, funerals, as well as things like rent and utilities. If you lost a job for instance, the community at the Pondok would be there to support you until you got back on your feet. The gotong-royong spirit was alive and well and weddings were a regular highlight that took place at the Pondok.

My own wedding was held at the Pondok and I remember a close group of my Chinese friends having attended. Being situated in a predominantly Chinese location along Club Street meant that we had many Chinese friends. The Malay and Chinese words we picked up enabled us to communicate and get along with each other.

Singapore is built on the bedrock of generosity and good-will amongst neighbours. We have to care for and nurture our multi-racial identity as a nation and we must not forget the trials we went through to get to where we are today.


Love,

Byrd O’ Beak
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image Mohd Awi bin Ador
Resident at Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club circa. 1940s

When we need to buy things, only then we will request for help in sharing of the expenses. But if there is not a need , we don’t have to. We would only request for fees from those who decide to stay in the house to cover accommodation and water bills. It’s only then, you are required to pay a monthly fee of 50 cents. That is all. When it’s nearing to Hari Raya, we would do a call out to share the expenses and would collect $2. After Hari Raya, we don’t have to collect. We would use the money collected to purchase food items, like kuih, things to use for prayer, nasi minyak, meat… For funerals it will be the same, we will look at the situation. I will collect the fees.
image Ismail bin Pagi
Resident at Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club circa. 1940s

That’s why when there’s any kenduri (communal feasts) or events, we don’t have to ask people outside for help. One pondok is enough to have it. Whether it be funerals…they would work together, help one another. Through ups and downs, the spirit of gotong-royong (communal work) within our community is strong. For example, they want to prepare for a wedding, so while they prepare food for family, the rest of the people would help. They do not have to be asked. They would automatically take the knife and stool and start helping. There are times where the people back then in flats that would do that. It is tradition, followed by the ways and traditions of the Bawean community, where the communal work is strong I admit. It’s not because I am Bawean that I’m saying this, it’s just that we can see, when we observe weddings, we can tell whether it is a Malay wedding or a Bawean wedding. We will know. For example, we can see that if the family of the pengantin (bridegroom) is small, but there’s a lot of people, “Ah…this must be a Bawean wedding.”
image Ahmad bin Sitri
Resident at Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club circa. 1940s

At first, the house was a garage, where you keep horse carriages. A lot of people back then, in the beginning of that era, were owned by the rich Tionghua people who lived in the Chinatown area, and the Boyanese people that came from Bawean, from Desa Gelam in Bawean travelled to Singapore and built an association. The house was at first specifically, a garage, a stable for the horses and carriages. A lot of its residents at the time were drivers of horse carriages. As time went by, they supported all the people who came from Desa Gelam Bawean in the house even till they built their families there. Therefore when the association was registered in 1930, I think more residents came to live there till they were able to build their families. There was one time where there were more than 200 people including the children and the elderly who lived there. After the war the use of horse carriages slowly died out and a lot of them became car drivers to the Tionghua people or the white people.
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