The Last Days of Kampong Lorong Fatimah

It was 1989. The Malay coastal village of Kampong Lorong Fatimah was a pale shadow of its former bustling days because by August that year, most of the 40 to 50 remaining families had moved out and resettled at the Housing and Development Board (HDB) at Woodlands, Yishun and other nearby estates. The peaceful rural atmosphere, abundance marine life and sound of lapping waves at the doorsteps of these residents gradually became memories as they got used to a different living style in the high rise flats.

In September 1989, about 1,500 Kampong Lorong Fatimah residents gathered for a final time to bid farewell to their beloved village. A sea carnival was organised by the village committee, with bonding activities such as a sampan tug-of-war. But the biggest event was the jong race which attracted 50 enthusiasts from all over Singapore to compete.

Jong is a traditional small wooden sailing boat, and jong racing is a popular pastime among the Malays, particularly those living at the coastal areas of Siglap, Pasir Panjang and the Southern Islands. A seasonal sport depending on favourable winds, jong racing has been associated with the sea-faring life of the coastal Malays since hundreds of years ago.

In a jong race, the participants usually compete in two races, called “sampai dulu” and “mengganakan gol“, where the winner is the first jong to dash across the finishing line and steer home between two long posts (15m to 18m apart) respectively.

Several local photographers and painters also made their way to the village to capture the last images of Kampong Lorong Fatimah, one of the few remaining villages in Singapore as the country progressed into the nineties.

There were generally two types of houses at Kampong Lorong Fatimah. The better, or atas ones were built on higher grounds and had ready access to water supply and amenities. Some were Malacca-style designed with verandah and stone steps. The others were lower dwellings, or bawah, that stood in the waters on wooden stilts. They were also more likely to be affected by the occasional floods.

A typical kampong house, with a living room, bedrooms, kitchen and prayer room, would cost between $2,000 to $3,000 in the sixties. The space around the houses could be used to plant coconut and rambutan trees and keep poultry.

Lorong Fatimah, a short access road off Woodlands Road, led to the village. At the rear of Kampong Lorong Fatimah were railway tracks that ran between Tanjong Pagar and Woodlands. The residents were used to the sight and sounds of trains plying between Malaysia and Singapore. But unfortunately there were tragedies over the years, when children and elderly got knocked down and killed by the passing trains.

For the tenants who rented houses at Kampong Lorong Fatimah, there was a difference too, in the rental costs. Those houses near the railway tracks were standing on lands owned by the Malayan Railway Administration (MRA); their rental prices were about $10 per month. About 50 out of the 70 houses in the village were within the MRA boundary. The rest were on Singapore’s lands, and their rentals were at a lower $12 to $16 a year rate.

Further down the coast was another village called Kampong Mandai Kechil, located next to the small river of Sungei Mandai Kechil. In the sixties, there were five major villages at the Woodlands area. Other than Kampong Lorong Fatimah and Kampong Mandai Kechil, there were also the Marsiling Village, Kampong Sungei Cina and Kampong Kranji.

Each of these villages had its own surau (prayer room), but the Muslim residents lacked a proper mosque for their religious needs. They decided to form a committee to raise funds and seek a suitable site. It was not until the seventies when the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), also known as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, collaborated with the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to build a mosque at the junction of Woodlands Road and Admiralty Road.

The new mosque named Masjid An-Nur was completed and officially opened on 20 April 1980. Known as the Blue Mosque of Singapore, it cost $2.1 million in construction and was the pride of the Muslim community at Woodlands, who waited almost 20 years for it. Many Muslim travellers and tourists from Malaysia also visited the mosque, often their first stop in Singapore, for prayers.

Electrical supply came to Kampong Lorong Fatimah in 1958 when the Singapore Rural Board and City Council shortlisted the village as one of the seven villages in Singapore to receive electrification. Like many other villages, Kampong Lorong Fatimah was also chosen as a venue for free movie shows organised by the Ministry of Culture in the sixties as a recreational benefit for the residents. Telecommunication services were inadequate though; the village had only one public phone booth even in the eighties.

The development of Kranji and Senoko industrial estates in the seventies and eighties ensured there were plenty of jobs available for the Woodlands residents, including those from Kampong Lorong Fatimah. Over the years, numerous residents left the village, while a few families moved in. It was still a close-knit community; the residents mingled together during a wedding or kenduri (religious feast). The peace and harmony of the village was maintained by its penghulu (village head). This lasted until the village’s final days in the late eighties.

Kampong Lorong Fatimah was unique in a sense that it was the only village in Singapore with its entrance guarded by an immigration officer due to its close proximity to the customs. The residents often stayed together with their Malaysian relatives here. At the immigration post, the Singaporeans would show their identity cards to enter the village, whereas the Malaysians just needed to flash their passports.

It was not exactly known when Kampong Lorong Fatimah first started. It might began just after the war, and gradually grew in size over the years. The village was named after Fatimah binte Haji Haron (1893-undetermined), a Malay women’s activist who advocated education for Malay women. She established the first branch of a Malay girls’ school called Sekolah Menysal (“School of Disappointments”) at Arab Street in 1945, where Malay women from 15 to 60 years old could enrol. In 1948, Fatimah binte Haron was appointed as a Justice of Peace, along with 17 other prominent women, by the colonial government for her contributions to the society.

Fatimah binte Haron was married to Tengku Kadir, a member of the Kampong Glam royal family. She also served as the secretary, and later president, of the Ladies Section of the Malay Union in Singapore. For Kampong Lorong Fatimah, she also helped them built a surau and other improvements to the village.

Years after the village was vacated and demolished, some residents still returned to the site to reminisce the good old days. The area, acquired by the government, underwent land reclamation works in the early nineties followed by the construction of a new checkpoint complex and roads. The new Woodlands CIQ (customs, immigration and quarantine) Complex, also known as Woodlands Checkpoint, was eventually opened on 18 July 1999. By then, Kampong Lorong Fatimah had walked into history for nearly a decade.

Published: 26 April 2023

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4 Responses to The Last Days of Kampong Lorong Fatimah

  1. NICKOLAS says:

    I do hope that the last Kampong still functioning is somehow preserved.

  2. William R. says:

    This road leading to the village has always intrigued me as it was past the Singapore customs checkpoint on the border with malaysia, so would technically be on the causeway in no-mans-land. As an avid map reader, how such a road and village could exist there puzzled me, it’s great to finally learn more about that place.

  3. Martial says:

    Fine remembrance

  4. Sulaiman Khan says:

    I’m Khan from Malaysia to my opinion Singapore should keep some of the Old Malay Settlements that is history which can’t replace the old memories as this can be a very good tourist attraction the new generation should be provided more information on the past

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