Pachitan – A Vanished Javanese Name in Singapore

Pachitan was a name that has largely forgotten and vanished in modern Singapore.

It began during the pre-war period, when a group of immigrants from the Pacitan City, East Java of Indonesia, came to Singapore. Like other groups of immigrants, they formed their communities and settled at various places such as Kampong Java, Bukit Chermin, Palembang Road, Bukit Timah Road, Amber Road and Changi Road.

The Japanese Occupation had devastated Singapore for three-and-half years. After the war, those who had survived had to regroup and reorganise their chaotic life. A group of 17 Javanese settlers had hoped to build their homes at Singapore, and they found an opportunity at a former rubber estate, used to be occupied by the Japanese army during the war, at Changi Road.

The Rise of Kampong Pachitan

The parcel of land was then owned by a local Chinese called Bak Eng, who agreed to rent to the Javanese. The land was to be divided into lots sized about 24m by 12m, and each lot was charged a monthly rental fee of $2. It was the beginning of the building of Kampong Pachitan for the 17 Javanese settlers, who began to clean up the area, build roads and other amenities.

map of kampong pachitan eunos kembangan 1961

kampong kembangan pachitan 1963

In 1948, the rural roads were completed and the Javanese wanted to name them after the gardening and carpentry tools they used daily, such as knives, parangs (machetes) and cangkuls (hoes). The names somehow did not get the nod by the authority; instead they were simply named Pachitan Satu to Pachitan Duas Belas (Pachitan One to Pachitan Twelve).

In 1950, the village head applied the official home address of Kampong Pachitan to the Land Office. About five years later, the kampong received electricity supplies. Over the years, the kampong grew in size and number of residents. Small huts became larger wooden houses, built by the efforts of the gotong royong spirit (mutual co-operation) among the residents. There were also small ponds, used for rearing fishes and growing of algae for animal feed.

surau kampong pachitan 1980s

The close-knit kampong had its small mosque with prayer room too, named Surau Kampong Pachitan, that was built in 1947 and later rebuilt in 1960. Many of the villagers had stayed at Kampong Pachitan all their life, and after their deaths, they were buried at Siglap Road’s Kubur Kassim, a Muslim cemetery for Javanese, Bugis and Baweanese.

Together with the Malay villages Kampong Eunos and Kampong Kembangan, Kampong Pachitan became part of the greater Kampong Kembangan constituency. Many Singapore politicians and leaders had paid visits to Kampong Pachitan in the sixties, such as former President of Singapore Yusof Ishak, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Ong Pang Boon, former Minister for Education.

lee kuan yew toured kampong kembangan constituency1 1963

lee kuan yew toured kampong kembangan constituency2 1963

The Javanese History in Singapore

Regarded as part of the larger Malay/Muslim community in Singapore now, the Javanese had a significant history dated back to the early 19th century, when a group of Javanese merchants and craftsmen set up a trading post at Kampong Java. By the end-19th century, more than 8,500 Javanese were residing in Singapore, either trading in spices, clothes and other goods, or working as labourers in plantations and mines.

Many Javanese also made the transit at Singapore during their Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca at Saudi Arabia. This was due to the travel restrictions imposed by the Dutch colonial government when Indonesia was ruled as the Dutch East Indies.

Kampong Pachitan by the Eighties

By the early eighties, there was a total of 475 families at Kampong Pachitan, living in 225 houses. The monthly rental fee was by then $4, paid to a new landowner named Lim Soon Peng. The kampong was still growing – it grew to 250 houses and 540 families in 1985 – but it was clear that the kampong would not outlast development, where new towns and high-rise public flats were mushrooming in many parts of Singapore.

To prepare the residents on the possibility of resettlement into public housing, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) organised a forum called “Adjustment to Your New Environment, from Kampong Pachitan to Housing Board Flats”. It was the first of its kind in the eighties, and its objective was to engage with the kampong dwellers about the resettlement, where a majority of the residents had initially objected. The forum also aimed to help the villagers prepare a new life in high-rise flats. In March 1985, about 340 families from Kampong Pachitan turned up at the forum.

kampong kembangan pachitan 1980s-1

kampong kembangan pachitan 1980s-2

The government, in the early eighties, also embarked on a committee project, dubbed Project Kampong Pachitan, to raise awareness to the residents living at Kampong Kembangan and Pachitan about the importance of education for their younger generation. Comprehensive plans were carried out in 1982 to set up libraries and study groups, and free copies of newspapers – the Berita Harian newspaper, The Straits Times, The Sunday Times and Singapore Monitor – were issued to the Malay students to improve their mastery of English.

By the end-eighties, about a third of the Kampong Pachitan residents had moved to nearby HDB estates at Tampines, Bedok North, Jalan Eunos and Jalan Ubi. Kampong Pachitan itself was demolished in mid-eighties, along with its network of kampong roads.

When the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) East-West Line was extended westwards to Tanah Merah in 1989, the two MRT stations in the vicinity were named as Eunos and Kembangan. The name Pachitan seemed to be forgotten.

kampong kembangan community centre 1963

Today, the site of the former Javanese kampong is occupied by both the Kembangan HDB flats and the Astoria Park condominium. For its former residents, the only familiar sight is perhaps the Siglap Canal that once cut through Kampong Pachitan. As for the name Pachitan, it has all but vanished into the history, with only the Pachitan Gamelan Orchestra, a local gamelan group, still carries the name.

The 20-member Pachitan Gamelan Orchestra was formed in 1991 and named after the Javanese village. Attached to Kampong Kembangan Community Centre, it specialises in performing traditional and contemporary pieces, as well as conducting workshops and giving performances at community events and music festivals. Its highlight was in 1995 when it performed at the Yogyakarta Gamelan Festival in Indonesia.

kembangan hdb flats1

kembangan hdb flats2

Published: 26 February 2016

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One Response to Pachitan – A Vanished Javanese Name in Singapore

  1. Nickolas says:

    What any all mighty coincidence or one must assume that the Javanese enclave was riddled with disease. Looking at the satellite photo it was only the enclave itself that was demolished and rebuilt. It is completely surrounded by medium density dwellings.

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