Sago Lane

Singapore Infopedia

by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala


Sago Lane is a one-way road in Chinatown connecting South Bridge Road to Banda Street.1 It was named for the many sago factories that were located there in the 1840s.2 Sago Lane was also known for the Chinese “death houses”.3

Running parallel to Sago Street,4 much of Sago Lane’s history is similar to that of Sago Street. From a prosperous sago flour manufacturing centre in the mid-19th century, it evolved into an area rife with prostitution in the early 20th century.5 The most defining feature of Sago Lane, however, was its Chinese death houses.6

People believed to be living the last days of their lives would go to death houses to spend their last days. Typically, a death house consisted of a living space on the first level and a funeral parlour below.7 A common Chinese belief is that one can bring one’s belongings to the next world upon dying. Hence fake paper money and paper models of various items, such as a house or a car, are burnt during funerals to effect that transition. The whole stretch of Sago Lane were lined with shops that sold paraphernalia used in funerals, including paper models, clothes, flowers, appliances and other possessions considered valuable to the deceased.8 As Chinese funerals are extended affairs that continued through days and nights, many foods stalls were found on Sago Lane and Banda Street catering to night visitors and mourners.9 Death houses were banned in 1961.10

The construction of Kreta Ayer Complex, also called Chinatown Complex,11 in the early 1970s resulted in part of Sago Lane being expunged.12

Variant names
Ho-ban-ni au koi in Cantonese and bo ba ni au boi in Hokkien, both of which mean “the street behind Ho-man-nin”. “Ho-man-nin” was the chop or seal of a popular singing hall on Sago Street.13
Sayyun kai (“street of the dead”): a reference to the death houses that lined the street.14

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja


1. Mighty Minds Street Directory (Singapore: Angel Publishing Pte Ltd., 2014), map 132. (Call no. RSING 912.5957 MMSD)
2. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 337. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
3. Peter K. G. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 269 (Call no. RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS]); Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 330–1; Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 192. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
4. Archives and Oral History Department, Singapore, Chinatown: An Album of a Singapore Community (Singapore: Times Books International, 1983), 100–1. (Call no. RSING 779.995957 CHI)
5. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 337.
6. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 269; Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 330–1; Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 192.
7. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 337.
8. Chan Kwee Sung, “Paper Chase in Afterlife,” Straits Times, 15 October 2001, 5 (From NewspaperSG); Geraldene Lowe-Ismail, Memories of Chinatown (Singapore: Tailsman Publishing, 2016), 24–26 (Call no. RSING 959.57 LOW-[HIS]); Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 192.
9. Chan Kwee Sung, “No Love Lost for the Old ‘Street of the Dead’,” Straits Times, 13 March 1999, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 337.
11. Kreta Ayer Complex, Elderly Ladies: Group Photograph, 12 May 1985, photograph, Lee Kip Lin Collection, National Library Board. 
12. Archives and Oral History Department, Singapore, Chinatown, 104.
13. Victor R. Savage, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics4th ed. (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 443 (Call no. RQUIK 915.9570014 SAV); H. W. Firmstone, “Chinese Names of Streets and Places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula,” Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42 (February 1905): 126–7. (Call no. RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)
14. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 269; Chan Kwee Sung, “No Love Lost for the Old ‘Street of the Dead’,”

The information in this article is valid as of 2016 and correct as far as we can 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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