Friday, March 23, 2012

Asian Civilization Museum: Civilization in the Past

As we were looking at the exhibits in the museum, we asked ourselves this questions:

-From the exhibition, identify one civilisation and find out how people in the civilisation deal with their constraints

- From the chosen gallery, find out how their responses contribute to the social, cultural and technological changes that occured in Asia?

Earliest Inhabitants

The Orang Laut or “Sea-Gypsies” were the earliest known inhabitants in the area around the river mouth. The community typically lived off a long dwelling boat known as Sampan Panjang or “Long Boat”.

Modern River Communities

The Hokkiens were located nearer the river-mouth in the South Boat Quay area, and the Teochews were concentrated mostly in North Boat Quay between Coleman Bridge and Read Bridge, especially around the area where Ellenborough Market once stood. For a long time, there were squatters living in squalid conditions which abutted the waters resulting in health hazards and pollution. Until the early 1980s, families still lived in wooden huts along the warehouses on the Jiak Kim Street side of the river.

Economic Activity

Singapore’s free port status and strategic location attracted all kinds of sailing crafts, especially those bound on the trade routes between India and China. The river’s calm waters were ideal for trading activities and served as the harbour for the growing British Settlement.

Recreation and Entertainment

For entertainment purposes, there were storytellers situated on Read Bridge. During certain Chinese festivals, there were street wayangs or “theatre” with a Hokkien or Teochew Opera on a makeshift stage by the river. Gambling in Mahjong and Si-Sek, a Chinese card game, were popular past-times too.

River Transport

The river divided Singapore into the ‘commercial’ and ‘government’ sectors. Before the construction of the bridges, the two sides were linked by Dhonies (English spelling of the Tamil word Thonee), a river-crossing Sampan or “Row Boat” operated by Indians. These boats carried boats or passengers. The much larger bumboats or lighters ferried goods for import and export.


Today, bumboats operate as river-taxis which carry sightseeing passengers. The key features include Anderson Bridge, Cavenagh Bridge, Elgin Bridge, Coleman Bridge; Clark Quay; Parliament House (with the original Court House built in 1827).


  • The Coolies: The coolies had to endure cramped living conditions, gangs, opium addiction and grueling work.

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