The significance of West Coast Park
or Pasir Panjang, as we call it.
We hope you’re well and swell! We would like to keep you updated on what has been keeping us busy. Amidst the flurry of preparing to conduct research for our documentation project, we had a lovely time meeting some of you during Singapore Heritage Fest in May.
With Makanan Kami, Cerita Kami (Our Food, Our Story), we hosted a storytelling session about life in Semakau over a hearty meal of Gulai Nenas, Kacang Panjang Asam Rebus, Sotong Hitam, Ketam Lemak and Sambal Udang. We then ended off the night with some dessert – pandan tea, and ubi kayu sprinkled with a dust of gula merah. It was heartening to be surrounded by a group of people keen to hear the stories and learn about the threats we islanders are facing.
Or perhaps you may have joined us at Kami dari Pulau (We are from the Pulau), where we shared stories with you on a walk around West Coast Park, a space cherished by my family members. West Coast Park or Pasir Panjang is steeped in historical significance and continues to be a cherished space for the wider Orang Pulau community.
A few things we’d like you to know about West Coast Park:
West Coast park was constructed in 1977, in tandem with the developing Southwestern region of Singapore. It was built to provide the growing number of people in the area with a public space to relax and exercise. Incidentally, this was the same year our family relocated to the mainland.
West Coast Park is a significant location for southern islanders. Like my grandfather, many of them would sell their catch to the mainlanders and villagers that settled along the shores of Pasir Panjang. Upon resettlement, West Coast Park inevitably turned into a sanctuary for the islanders, where makeshift shacks were built along the beach for shelter.
Built by the islanders, the shacks were where the islanders gathered to swap stories and fishing tips, and weaved their bubu traps. Pictured below is our late grandfather, Rani Bin Omar, on the beach of West Coast Park in 1996. Today, the beach he was on has developed into a water breaker.
In 1985, upgrading works began. The number of recreational facilities increased. West Coast Park transformed into a family recreation centre, host to festivals like the annual Singapore Armed Forces display show and the Singapore Kite Festival.
Unfortunately, part of these upgrading works included ridding West Coast Park’s shores of boat shacks and makeshift jetties for their “unsightliness”, which has affected the livelihoods of the fishermen and islanders. Having to move to the mainland and into public housing, many islanders do not have the space to store their fishing equipment. These shelters were needed for storage. Simply put, no storage means lesser access to the fishing gear that their livelihoods depended on.
However, these makeshift shelters and shacks were deemed illegally built and were later removed.
In July 1985, First Boatique won the tender to operate a yard to house 150 boats in Tuas. Boat owners were ordered to remove their boats from West Coast Park by September 15th. They would be charged $80 a month to store their boats in this privately-owned facility. Only boats up to 9.2m long were allowed in the yard. Boat owners who could not afford the fee or whose boats would not fit in the yard had to give them up. Individuals like Cik Atan Mohamed, who had a slightly larger boat faced some difficulties.
During our walking tour of West Coast Park, we introduced some of you to the space where our community continues to gather to practice our island traditions. In-person events like these remind us of how important it is to share the community's stories. We believe we have so much more to do, that we can do from here on.
If our work here at Orang Laut SG resonates with you, we’d like to invite you to join us on this journey! If you’re an individual or represent an organisation, we’d like to work with you. Read our latest updates below:
A few events happening in the community that you need to know about:
1. The launch of a new book: Khairat Kita
Khairat Kita is a collection of interviews, photographs, essays and personal reflections, and the first volume of literature in Singapore that captures the voices and legacy of the last few remaining Malay/Muslim Mutual Benefit Organisations (MMBOs). Known as badan khairat kematian, they are volunteer, community-led initiatives based on a centuries-old tradition of mutual aid, providing aid and charity to their deceased members' families.
Khairat kematian organisations are social anchors in the community and custodians of intangible cultural heritage in Singapore’s Malay/Muslim community.
With around 20 such organisations left, declining membership and ageing committee members, the future looks uncertain for these MMBOs. You may pre-order below or join the launch of Khairat Kita on Sunday, 25 Sep.
2. A new play by Alfian Sa’at: Pulau Ujong
At a time when we can no longer turn a blind eye to the ravaging effects of climate change, Pulau Ujong invites audiences to re-acquaint themselves with the miracles and mysteries of the natural world. Featuring interviews with climate scientists and activists, this riveting new piece of documentary theatre also amplifies more-than-human voices, like zoo mascot Ah Meng and Singapore’s last tiger.
There’s a 10% off Cat 1 and 2 tickets when you purchase via the link below. This one must watch, okay? We will be there too. See you soon, friends!
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