Night jaga



The jaga are traditional watchmen or guards who used to stand vigil outside banks, godowns and shops to prevent theft and damage to property.1 The position was initially filled by Sikhs in early Singapore and eventually came to be associated with the Sikh community.2 Jaga is Malay for a watchman or caretaker.3

History
Many of the early Sikhs from Punjab, India, came to Malaya in hope of finding work as soldiers or policemen in the British service. However, not all were successful. To pay off the large debt incurred to come to Malaya, they sought alternative employment as watchmen and security guards.Some jaga were also former policemen in the Sikh contingent of the local police which had disbanded after World War II.These Sikh jaga guarded homes, banks, godowns, retail shops and factories, usually after office hours and during the night.

Due to their imposing appearances and martial reputations established from their experiences with the British military and policing, Sikhs were highly sought after by businesses and the wealthy for private security services.Over time, these Sikh watchmen became status symbols of the rich, as wealthy Chinese businessmen would hire them as personal bodyguards as well as to protect their homes and businesses.8 The jaga were known for their loyalty, dependability and friendliness which made them ideal guards and door-keepers at banks and hotels.9 So valued were their services that the Chinese were known to burn effigies of Sikh jaga as offerings to the dead. Statues of Sikh guards adorned the tombs of some rich Chinese merchants in the belief that they would continue their protective roles in the afterlife.10 

Job scope

The work of these Sikh watchmen usually began around 5 pm and ended at 8 am the next morning, with no leave on Sundays or public holidays.11 However there were also watchmen who worked during business operating hours and others who worked 24 hours a day.12 To help them stay vigilant during these long hours, most jaga owned a charpoy, a hammock-style bed made up of ropes tied to a wooden frame. The charpoy was usually brought to the pavement outside the building’s main door to be slept on, or to be used as a seat for friends.13 Most jaga also exercised to stay fit.14 They were often seen in a turban with their long beards, garbed in their ethnic dress the kurta and dhoti, which are long, flowing, cotton garments.15

jaga’s pay was modest. In the 1930s, they were paid between $3 and $15 a month.16 By the 1980s, the jaga earned between $300 and $500 a month.17 To supplement their incomes, some jaga carried out other businesses such as moneylending on the side.18

Jaga today

Once a familiar sight in Singapore, the traditional jaga had become a dying trade by the 1980s.19 With the introduction of modern security and surveillance equipment as well as security services offered by security agencies, the role of the jaga has become increasingly diminished.20 



Author
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja



References
1. The night ‘jagas’. (1981). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 32‒33. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ); Muthu, S. M. (1980, October 24). The vanishing breed… The Straits Times, p. 11; Gautnam, S. R. (1989, December 29). Watchman of yesteryearThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

2. Koh, S., & Vijayan, G. (1982, May 16). That big, strong and friendly manThe Straits Times, p. 13; Chan, K. S. (1999, August 7). Good old jagas missed in actionThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. The night ‘jagas’. (1981). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 32‒33. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
4. Kaur, A. (2009). Sikhs in the policing of British Malaya and Straits Settlements (1874–1957). Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, pp. 115‒119. (Call no.: RSING 363.2095951 KAU); Singh, M., et. al. (Eds.). (2015).  Singapore at 50: Sikhs and their contributions. Singapore: Young Sikh Association, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 294.6095957 SIN)
5. Chan, K. S. (1999, August 7). Good old jagas missed in actionThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Kaur, A. (2009). Sikhs in the policing of British Malaya and Straits Settlements (1874–1957). Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, pp. 117‒118. (Call no.: RSING 363.2095951 KAU); The night ‘jagas’. (1981). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 32. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ); Muthu, S. M. (1980, October 24). The vanishing breed… The Straits Times, p. 11; Gautnam, S. R. (1989, December 29). Watchman of yesteryearThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Kaur, A. (2009). Sikhs in the policing of British Malaya and Straits Settlements (1874-1957). Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, pp. 115‒119. (Call no.: RSING 363.2095951 KAU); Singh, M., et. al. (Eds.). (2015).  Singapore at 50: Sikhs and their contributions. Singapore: Young Sikh Association, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 294.6095957 SIN)
8. Kaur, A. (2009). Sikhs in the policing of British Malaya and Straits Settlements (1874–1957). Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, pp. 117‒118. (Call no.: RSING 363.2095951 KAU); Chan, K. S. (1999, August 7). Good old jagas missed in actionThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Gautnam, S. R. (1989, December 29). Watchman of yesteryearThe Straits Times, p. 7; Koh, S. & Vijayan, G. (1982, May 16). That big, strong and friendly manThe Sunday Times, p. 13; Chan, K. S. (1999, August 7). Good old jagas missed in actionThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Kaur, A. (2009). Sikhs in the policing of British Malaya and Straits Settlements (1874–1957). Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, p.118. (Call no.: RSING 363.2095951 KAU); Sikh guards at Chinese tombs ‘show there were strong links’. (1993, January 12). The Straits Times, p. 23; Chan, K. S. (1999, August 7). Good old jagas missed in actionThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. The night ‘jagas’. (1981). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 32–33. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ)
12. Gautnam, S. R. (1989, December 29). Watchman of yesteryearThe Straits Times, p. 7; Chan, K. S. (1999, August 7). Good old jagas missed in actionThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. The night ‘jagas’. (1981). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 32. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ); Chan, K. S. (1999, August 7). Good old jagas missed in actionThe Straits Times, p. 6; Muthu, S. M. (1980, October 24). The vanishing breed…The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. The night ‘jagas’. (1981). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 32–33. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ); Gautnam, S. R. (1989, December 29). Watchman of yesteryear. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. The night ‘jagas’. (1981). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 32‒33. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ), Gautnam, S. R. (1989, December 29). Watchman of yesteryear. The Straits Times, p. 7; Koh, S., & Vijayan, G. (1982, May 16). That big, strong and friendly manThe Sunday Times, p. 13; Chan, K. S. (1999, August 7). Good old jagas missed in actionThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
16. Gautnam, S. R. (1989, December 29). Watchman of yesteryearThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
17. Muthu, S. M. (1980, October 24). The vanishing breed… The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Muthu, S. M. (1980, October 24). The vanishing breed… The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Gautnam, S. R. (1989, December 29). Watchman of yesteryearThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. The night ‘jagas’. (1981). Goodwood Journal, 1st Qtr., 32‒33. (Call no.: RCLOS 052 GHCGJ); Muthu, S. M. (1980, October 24). The vanishing breed… The Straits Times, p. 11; Koh, S., & Vijayan, G. (1982, May 16). That big, strong and friendly manThe Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resource
He loves the job and its dangers. (1982, May 16). The Sunday Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.




The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to 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.

Subject
Commerce and Industry>>Labour and Employment>>Vanishing Trades
Heritage and Culture
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services
Unskilled labor--Singapore
Watchmen--Singapore
Vanishing trade