Pulau Seking



Pulau Seking (also known as Pulau Sakeng or Siking) is one of the islands off Singapore’s south coast.1 It was home to the last Southern island kampong (village) community, before the islanders were resettled to make way for the development of a landfill.2

Although the islands off Singapore’s south coast are popularly known as the Southern Islands,3 the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) 1997 Concept Plan identified Pulau Seking as one of the Western islands.4

Geography and history
Pulau Seking was situated approximately 7 kilometres away from the mainland and measured 500 m by 200 m (about 10 football fields).5 The island was only accessible by a 10-minute motorised sampan-taxi ride from Pulau Bukom. Pulau Seking was surrounded by swamps that provided the islanders with firewood and building materials.6


The islanders of Pulau Seking considered themselves as Orang Selat or “people of the Straits” and saw various parts of Singapore such as Pasir Panjang, Kampong Bahru, Telok Saga and Pulau Brani as their homes. The Orang Selat had already been living on Pulau Seking before colonial times. This is evidenced by archaeological surface finds on the island dating back to the 14th century or earlier.7 According to a surgeon named Robert Little, in 1848 there were about seven houses and 30 islanders living there.8

Several 19th century writers, and even 16th century sources, show that prior to 1819, Singapore and her surrounding islands were geographically, historically and ethnologically part of the larger context of Johor, Riau and Sumatra.9 This was also found in an ethnographic study by anthropologist Vivienne Wee in 1979 when she visited Pulau Pangkil in the Riau Archipelago. Her study revealed that both Pulau Seking and Pulau Pangkil islanders identify themselves as belonging to the same tribe, and maintained social relations with each other until the settlement in Pulau Seking was demolished in 1993.10

The population of Pulau Seking stood at 780 in 1955. It increased to 1,600 in the 1960s when the villagers from Pulau Bukom moved there as their island made way for the development of petrochemical facilities.11 By 1980, Pulau Seking’s population dwindled to 525 as islanders left the island for mainland Singapore.12

Many of the islanders, like their ancestors who lived on the island, fished or built boats for a living. With the development of Pulau Bukom as a petroleum tank depot and oil refinery, many of Seking’s islanders also worked as technicians there.13

Southern Islands carnival
The Southern Islands had a tradition of an annual carnival that was organised towards the end of each year.14 With the added participation of the Riau islanders, the carnival aimed to foster friendship between the residents of the Southern islands and Riau islanders. Each of the Southern Islands took turns to take charge of the annual event. The carnival included water games such as swimming, diving, rowing a dingy with two, four, six or eight people and knocking off opponents on aslippery wooden pillar as well as land activities such as soccer, sepak takraw, top spinning and climbing up a greasy pole.15

Over time, involvement in the carnival declined as the Riau islanders were unable to enter Singapore. In addition, islanders from the other Southern Islands were resettled in mainland Singapore, and younger Pulau Seking islanders began to leave the island in view of the Southern islands’ development plans.16


Development of Pulau Seking as a landfill
The first announcement of the expansion and development of Pulau Seking was made in June 1975. No specific time period was given then, although soil testing was underway.17 In 1983, it was announced that Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) would take over Pulau Seking by the end of the decade or in the early 1990s.18 This led to calls from members of the public for the island to be saved.19 In response, JTC clarified that Pulau Seking was earmarked for long-term industrial development, and that they did not have plans to redevelop Pulau Seking nor to resettle the islanders at that moment.20


In 1993, then Minister for the Environment Mah Bow Tan informed parliament that a gigantic landfill complex would be built between Pulau Seking and the nearby Pulau Semakau. The facility opened in 1999.21

Kanwaljit Soin (Dr), a nominated member of parliament, appealed for Pulau Seking to be excluded from the proposed landfill project due to the significance of the island as part of Singapore’s cultural heritage which predated 1819. Her appeal was turned down as the government would have needed to spend an additional $130 million for a different landfill site if the island was preserved.22 In 1994, the last residents of Pulau Seking were relocated to mainland Singapore.23

The construction of the landfill started in 1995.24 It involved building a 7-kilometre long bund to connect Pulau Seking and Pulau Semakau. The bund encloses the landfill site and creates a total landfill area of 350 ha, and a land capacity of 63 million cubic metres.25 Care was taken during the landfill operation to ensure that the surrounding environment would not be polluted. Now known as the Semakau Landfill, the area is also open to the public for recreational activities such as walks to appreciate the fragile marine life, stargazing, sport fishing and birdwatching.26



Author

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama



References
1. Wee, V., & Benjamin, G. (2001). Pulau Seking: The final link to pre-Raffles Singapore (p. 197). [Unpublished paper]. Retrieved 2016, November 14 from Academia. Edu website: https://www.academia.edu/5343730/Vivienne_Wee_and_Geoffrey_Benjamin_Pulau_Seking_the_final_link_to_pre-Raffles_Singapore; Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates: Official Report. (1993, November 11). Oral answers to questions – Pulau Sakeng (Proposed landfill project). (Vol. 61, col. 1006). Singapore: [s.n.]. Retrieved 2016, November 14 from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00063844-ZZ&currentPubID=00069700-ZZ&topicKey=00069700-ZZ.00063844-ZZ_1%2Bid004_19931111_S0004_T00051-oral-answer%2B
2. Ho, A. L. (2014, August 3). Singapore's forgotten islands. The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Singapore. Southern Islands Celebration Committee. (1966). Southern Islands celebrate peace and one year of independence: Souvenir programme. Singapore: Southern Islands Celebration Committee. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN); Wee, L. (2015, April 12). Southern comfort. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
4. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1997). Central water catchment, Lim Chu Kang, north-eastern islands, Tengah, western islands, western water catchment planning areas: planning report 1997. Singapore: The Authority, pp. 20–23. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
5. Wee, V., & Benjamin, G. (2001). Pulau Seking: The final link to pre-Raffles Singapore (p. 198). [Unpublished paper]. Retrieved 2016, November 14 from Academia. Edu website: https://www.academia.edu/5343730/Vivienne_Wee_and_Geoffrey_Benjamin_Pulau_Seking_the_final_link_to_pre-Raffles_Singapore; The day Pulau Seking came alive. (1984, April 24). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Wee, V., & Benjamin, G. (2001). Pulau Seking: The final link to pre-Raffles Singapore (p. 198). [Unpublished paper]. Retrieved 2016, November 14 from Academia. Edu website: https://www.academia.edu/5343730/Vivienne_Wee_and_Geoffrey_Benjamin_Pulau_Seking_the_final_link_to_pre-Raffles_Singapore
7. Wee, V., & Benjamin, G. (2001). Pulau Seking: The final link to pre-Raffles Singapore (p. 198). [Unpublished paper]. Retrieved 2016, November 14 from Academia. Edu website: https://www.academia.edu/5343730/Vivienne_Wee_and_Geoffrey_Benjamin_Pulau_Seking_the_final_link_to_pre-Raffles_Singapore
8. Singapore. National Archives. (1986). Geylang Serai: Down memory lane: Kenangan abadi. Singapore: Heinemann Asia, p. 44. (Call no: RSING 779.995957 GEY); Ng, M. F. C. (2012). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
9. Wee, V., & Benjamin, G. (2001). Pulau Seking: The final link to pre-Raffles Singapore (pp. 197–198). [Unpublished paper]. Retrieved from 2016, November 14 Academia. Edu website: https://www.academia.edu/5343730/Vivienne_Wee_and_Geoffrey_Benjamin_Pulau_Seking_the_final_link_to_pre-Raffles_Singapore
10. Hutchinson, F. E., & Chong, T. (Eds.). (2016). The SIJORI cross-border region: Transnational politics, economics, and culture. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, p. 254. (Call no.: RSING 338.959 SIJ)
11. Ng, M. F. C. (2012). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
12. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1993, November 11). Oral answers to questions – Pulau Sakeng (Proposed landfill project). (Vol. 61, col. 1006). Retrieved 2016, November 14 from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00063844-ZZ&currentPubID=00069700-ZZ&topicKey=00069700-ZZ.00063844-ZZ_1%2Bid004_19931111_S0004_T00051-oral-answer%2B; Chia, H. (1987, July 15). Island attracts tour groups. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. The day Pulau Seking came alive. (1984, April 24). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Berpesta in Seking. (1984, August 26). Berita Harian, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Pulau yg hidup setahun sekali. (1985, March 17). Berita Harian, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Pulau yg hidup setahun sekali. (1985, March 17). Berita Harian, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Pemerintah merancang utk luaskan Pulau Seking. (1975, June 28). Berita Harian, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Ng, W. H. (1983, April 4). Where tomorrow comes quickly…. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Singh, P. (1986, January 11). Save Pulau Seking. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Ng, T. H. (1986, January 16). Long-term plans. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Peluang 'akhir' lihat Pulau Seking. (1993, November 18). Berita Harian, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, Y. S., Lee, T. J., & Tan, K. (2009). Clean, green and blue: Singapore’s journey towards environmental and water sustainability. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 363.70095957 TAN)
22. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1993, November 11). Oral answers to questions – Pulau Sakeng (Proposed landfill project). (Vol. 61, col. 1006). Singapore: [s.n]. Retrieved 2016, November 14 from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00063844-ZZ&currentPubID=00069700-ZZ&topicKey=00069700-ZZ.00063844-ZZ_1%2Bid004_19931111_S0004_T00051-oral-answer%2B; The landfill project. (1994, February 8). The New Paper, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Ho, A. L. (2014, August 3). Singapore's forgotten islands. The Straits Times, p. 38; Mazlena, A. Mazlan. (1994, March 14). Raya terakhir di Pulau Seking. Berita Harian, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Ng, M. F. C. (2012). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
25. Ng, M. F. C. (2012). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, pp. 15, 16. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG); The landfill project. (1994, February 8). The New Paper, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Ng, M. F. C. (2012). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, pp. 28–29. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)



Further resources

Chia, H. (1987, July 15). Island attracts tour groups. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Edwards, N. & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 481.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 EDW-[TRA])

Holmberg, J. (1976, December 3). Islands in the sun. New Nation, pp. 10–11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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
Heritage and Culture
Ethnic Communities
Singapore offshore islands
Seletar(Malaysian people)--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Residential buildings
Islands--Singapore
Geography>>Geographical Areas and Countries>>Singapore Offshore Islands
People and communities>>Social groups and communities