Kampong Glam

Singapore Infopedia

by Cornelius, Vernon


Kampong Glam (originally spelt “Campong Gelam” when it was named around 1830) is one of 10 subzones of the Rochor area located in the central region. The estate covers 56 ac of land located to the east of the 19th-century European town in Singapore, between Rochor River and the sea.1 The road names in Kampong Glam such as Bussorah, Muscat and Kandahar streets – named after places in the Muslim world2 – were approved by the municipal commissioners at a meeting held on 15 April 1910.3 On 7 July 1989, Kampong Glam was gazetted as a conservation area, and it is preserved as a historic part of town.4

Kampong Glam was land set aside for Sultan Hussein Mohamed Shah and 600 family members in 1824, after he signed the treaty that ceded Singapore to the East India Company.5 He instructed the Temenggong Abdul Rahman to build his palace here – a large attap-roof istana (palace).6 Aside from the sultan’s family, residents of the area included the Bugis, Arabs, Javanese and Boyanese. By 1824, at least one-third of the residents were Chinese.7 Muslim immigrants 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. Stamford Raffles himself donated $3,000 for a “respectable mosque”, which served the community until 1924 when the current landmark, Sultan Mosque, was built. The location of Kampong Glam caused a rift between Raffles and William Farquhar – the latter believed that the land would be better used as the island’s business centre.8 Kampong Glam was developed in 1831 by 200 convict workers in eight months, at a total cost of $500.9

At the founding of Singapore, there was a village by the sea where the orang laut (sea gypsies) from the Glam tribe resided. According to Wah Hakim, the area was known as Seduyong before it gained the name Kampong Glam, introduced by the orang laut. The bark of the cajeput tree (known in Malay as gelam 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.10

By the 1920s, the kampong had descended into notoriety so much so that it was famed more for its red-light district than for its distinctive community.11 The elegant, Moorish-influenced Sultan Mosque was rebuilt in 1924, and continues to be an important beacon for Muslims.12

On 7 July 1989, the historic district of Kampong Glam was gazetted as a conservation area.13 In 1993, the government first announced its plan to develop the Istana Kampong Glam, as it was in the 16-hectare Kampong Glam conservation area.14 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.15

Key features
Within the area also stand significant buildings like the Bendahara House at No. 73, Sultan Gate; and Pondok Java, a drama house where traditional cultural arts of Javanese migrants – for example, wayang kulit (shadow puppet play), wayang bangsawan (drama acting) – were performed.16

Variant names
Kampong Glam Beach: twa che kha in Hokkien, meaning “the foot of the big well”, as there used to be an old well in the middle of the road at Sultan Gate.17
Sultan Gate in Hokkien is known as: ong hui khau, referring to “the mouth of the palace”; or phah ti koi, meaning “the street of the iron-smiths”.
Sultan Road/Jalan Sultan: sio po phah ti koi in Hokkien, meaning “small Singapore’s iron-smiths” street.
Sultan Gate is known as Raja Kottei in Tamil, meaning “Raja’s Palace”.18


Vernon Cornelius

1. Jane Perkins, Kampong Glam: Spirit of a Community (Singapore: Times Pub., 1984), 12. (Call no. RSING 959.57 PER-[HIS])
2. Perkins, Spirit of a Community, 17.
3. Raffles Library and Museum, Ordinary Meeting of 15th April 1910, Minutes of the Proceedings of the Municipal Commissioners, 1910. (From National Archives of Singapore microfilm NA429)
4. Vivi Zainol, “A Touch of Old Kampong Glamour,” Straits Times, 16 August 2004, 4; “Kg Glam Shophouses to Be Restored,” Straits Times, 16 March 1990, 28. (From NewsapaperSG)
5. Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng and Tan Tai Yong, Singapore, a 700-Year History: From Early Emporium to World City (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, 2009), 97–98. (Call no. RSING 959.5703 KWA-[HIS])
6. Perkins, Spirit of a Community, 12.
7. Perkins, Spirit of a Community, 17, 20.
8. Perkins, Spirit of a Community, 13.
9. Perkins, Spirit of a Community, 18.
10. Perkins, Spirit of a Community, 12.
11. Perkins, Spirit of a Community, 23.
12. “History of the Sultan Mosque,” Straits Times, 8 July 1993, 22; “Sights and Smells of Kampong Glam,” Straits Times, 12 May 1987, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Zainol, “Touch of Old Kampong Glamour”; “Kg Glam Shophouses to Be Restored.”
14. “Will It Become a White Elephant?” Straits Times, 22 April 1993, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Mohd Osman Salleh, “New Centre for Malay Heritage,” Straits Times, 13 March 1999, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Zainol, “Touch of Old Kampong Glamour.”
16. “Will It Become a White Elephant?
17. “Sultan Gate,” National Heritage Board, accessed 3 April 2016.  
18. Arif Zahari, “Dari Lo Ma Pan Jiang ke Raja Kottei,” Berita Harian, 19 October 2001, 22. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources
Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Singapore: 150th Anniversary of the Founding of Singapore (Singapore: Times Printers, 1973), 97. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN)

Ray Tyers, Singapore, Then and Now (Singapore: University Education Press, 1976), 179–82. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])

Renmin xingdong dang ganbanggenan zhibu shizhounian jinian tekan 人民行动党甘榜格南支部十周年纪念特刊 [P.A.P. Kampong Glam Branch 10th anniversary celebrations souvenir] (Singapore : [Publishing Unit of the 10th Anniversary Celebration Committee of the Branch], 1967). (Call no. Chinese RSING 324.25957 PAP)

Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, Changing Times (23.8.92): Kg Glam & Geylang Serai, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, 1992, videocassette. (Call no. RSING MV 959.57 CHA)

Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Conservation Guidelines: Our Heritage Is in Our Hands (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1995). (Call no. RSING q363.69095957 CON)

Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Historic Districts in the Central Area: A Manual for Kampong Glam Conservation Area (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1988). (Call no. RSING 307.3095957 HIS)

Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Kampong Glam: Historic District (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1995). (Call no. RSING q363.69095957 KAM)

The information in this article is valid as of 2016 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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