Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club

Singapore Infopedia

by Nuradilah Ramlan


The Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club is a community club for the Bawean Malay community. Established officially in 1932, the club served as a communal home for Baweanese immigrants until the 1960s. Originally located at 64 Club Street, it moved to Telok Ayer Hong Lim Green Community Centre at 20 Upper Pickering Street in 2000.1 The original pondok building on Club Street was designated a historic site by the National Heritage Board in 2000.

Baweanese migrants
In  the early 19th century, Baweanese migrants began arriving in large numbers from Pulau Bawean, an island north of Java and south of Kalimantan, Indonesia, in search of better economic opportunities.2

In Singapore, the Baweanese stayed in pondoks or lodges in areas such as Minto Road, Kampong Java and Everton.3 Besides serving as shelters for new immigrants, these pondoks were also institutions of communal support and welfare for the Baweanese community.4 One such pondok was the Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club on Club Street, which housed up to 200 Baweanese residents at its peak.5

Pondok system
Pondok, or ponthuk, means “hut” in Malay, but has taken on the meaning of a communal home or, in the case of the Baweanese community in Singapore, a shophouse that functions as a lodging house similar to a Chinese clan, or kongsi.6

The pondok on Club Street was a typical large three storey pre-war shophouse divided into several cubicles for different families, with shared kitchen and toilet facilities. The bedrooms on the upper floors were reserved for married couples, while the lower floor was for children and unmarried adults who slept on wooden platforms. Over time, the pondok became overcrowded as the number of Baweanese immigrants increased.7

The pondok system was based on fictive kinship where members came from the same kelurahan or group of villages back in Bawean, and the upholding of a community or gotong-royong spirit. Residents living in the same pondok were close-knit. They provided assistance and support to new immigrants by helping them to settle down, adapt to life in Singapore and look for employment. As a result, Baweanese migrants were often found in the same type of jobs, usually as drivers or gardeners. If they became unemployed or incurred debts, members of the community would provide financial assistance.8

Each pondok had a chief called the Pak Lurah, who took charge of the welfare of the pondok’s residents as well as financial and religious matters. He also dispensed advice on matters relating to daily life. The residents of each pondok were governed by cultural norms that helped to maintain peace and harmonious living. Such norms were recorded by Abdullah Baginda in his 1967 Intisari journal article, “Our Baweanese People”.9

The Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club is said to have started before 1914 as Pondok Desa Gelam in Chinatown. Founded for Baweanese migrants from the Desa Gelam (Gelam district) on Bawean Island, it was officially registered on 4 April 1932 as Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club.10

As a Malay-centred communal facility in a predominantly Chinese area, the Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club symbolised racial co-existence and harmony. During the 1945 racial riots, pondok residents were protected from Malayan Communist Party guerrillas and Chinese triad members by their Chinese neighbours. They were accorded the same protection during the 1964 racial riots.11

With the relocation of pondok residents to public housing units built by the Housing and Development Board in the 1960s, the pondok ceased to serve as a communal home. It evolved into a community club that organised educational, social and recreational activities for members and non-members.12 In 1969, membership was extended beyond the Baweanese community to all Singapore residents. By the 1980s, club membership had exceeded 700.13

In 2000, the club was relocated to Telok Ayer Hong Lim Green Community Centre on Upper Pickering Street. The pondok’s last resident who moved out at the end of 1999 was Suki Sitri, who had lived at the club for 60 years.14 In 2000, the original pondok building on Club Street was declared a historic site by the National Heritage Board and underwent restoration. The club on Upper Pickering Street continued to organise recreational activities such as arts, cultural, sports and wellness programmes.15

Nuradilah Ramlan

1. Siti Andrianie, “Singapore’s Last Pondok Named a Historic Site,” Straits Times, 31 January 2000, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Abdullah Baginda, “Our Baweanese People,” Intisari 2, no. 4 (1967), 26–27. (Call no. RCLOS 959.5005 INT)
3. Mohd Gani Ahmad and Ismail Pantek, “Erti Pondok Berbeza Ikut Tempat Dan Zaman,” Berita Harian, 10 October 2006, 8; “Work on Bridge: Traffic Plan,” Straits Times, 10 February 1962, 4; “Pondok People Still Here after 5 Decades,” New Paper, 17 August 1989, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Mardiana Abu Bakar, “The Baweanese Retain Their Pondok Spirit,” Straits Times, 19 October 1987, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Andrianie, “Singapore’s Last Pondok.”
6. Mafoot Simon, “Showtime, to Lure Ponthuk Young,” Straits Times, 20 November 1997, 18; “Pondok People Still Here”; Suhaili Osman and Muhammad Qazim Abdul Karim, “Laobe: Changing Times: Baweanese Heritage & Culture in Singapore,” BeMuse 7, no. 3 (July–September 2014), 24–25. (Call no. RSING 950 B)
7. Osman and Abdul Karim, “Laobe,” 24–25; “Historic Home,” New Paper, 31 January 2000, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Baginda, “Baweanese People,” 29–30, 36–37.
9. Baginda, “Baweanese People,” 29–31, 33, 36–40.
10. Andrianie, “Singapore’s Last Pondok”; “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 23 April 1932, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
11. National Archives of Singapore, “Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club,” Treasures of Time no. 3 (March 2000): 9. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TT-[HIS])
12. Andrianie, “Singapore’s Last Pondok.”
13. “Club That Pays a Member’s Fines,” Straits Times, 5 March 1984, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Farid Hamzah, “Sejarah Pondok Gelam Diabadi,” Berita Harian, 10 November 1999, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Andrianie, “Singapore’s Last Pondok”; National Archives of Singapore, “Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club,” 9.

Further resource
Sundusia Rosdi, ed., Masyarakat Bawean Singapura: La-A-Obe (Singapore: Persatuan Bawean Singapura, 2015). (Call no. Malay RSING 305.8009598 MAS)

The information in this article is valid as of 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

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