Pulau Tekong is an island off the northeastern coast of Singapore, with Selat Johore to the north and Serangoon Harbour to the south. There were originally two islands – the larger called Pulau Tekong, and the smaller Pulau Tekong Kechil – but land reclamation joined the two, making Pulau Tekong Singapore's largest offshore island. It is currently used for military purposes. Many versions to the origins of its name abound, mostly buried in folklore.
Pulau Tekong was originally two islands: the 2,442.6-hectare Pulau Tekong (often known as Pulau Tekong Besar in Malay, meaning "Big Tekong Island"), and the 89-hectare Pulau Tekong Kechil (Malay for "Small Tekong Island"). Before land reclamation in the mid-1990s, which joined the two islands, the main Pulau Tekong was already the largest of Singapore's offshore islands at 17-kilometre long and 12-kilometre wide.
In 1957, there was a population of as many as 4,074 which was predominantly Chinese, although the Malays are believed to be the earliest settlers on the island. Among its produce then were rubber, coconut, vegetables, prawns, fish, and tropical fruits such as durians, mangosteens, and rambutans. The island once was home to several kampongs (villages) such as Kampong Pahang, Kampong Selabin (Pekan), Kampong Seminal, Kampong Batu Koyok, Kampong Senyunkong, Kampong Pasir, Kampong Sungei Belang, Kampong Onom, Kampong Pasir Merah, and Kampong Permatang.
All the islanders have been resettled on the mainland, and the island is today dedicated exclusively for military use. Basic Military Training, which kicks off the Singaporean man's national service, takes place on the island.
In 1987, archaeologists discovered earthenware pieces at Kampong Permatang on the northwest region of the island, opposite the Johore River mouth and the old Johore Lama location, a historical site. The finds are significant, and appear to be similar to others found in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia including Borneo. The artefacts date back to the prehistoric neolithic era, as well as the 15th and 16th centuries, indicative of trading activities on this island in the past. Other finds include Chinese stoneware and a big fragment of a 16th-century Sukhotai bowl. These discoveries have been sent to universities in the United Kingdom for age verification.
Elephants on the island
In May 1990, a group of national servicemen from the Singapore Armed Forces spotted three 'Wild Bull' elephants on the island. The elephants were thought to have swum across the Strait of Johore, from Johore, the closest natural habitat. Help was sought from the Singapore Zoo, which in turn got assistance from the Malaysian Wildlife authorities to capture these animals. The island, which is used for military training, was deemed an unsuitable home for the elephants. The joint Singapore-Malaysia rescue team eventually succeeded in subduing and capturing the elephants which were then sent back to Malaysia
How the island gained its name "Tekong" has many stories behind it:
- Seafarers who relied on the stars as their compass were said to follow a particular star known as the "tekong" which would lead them to the island.
- Another version narrates the tale of a Chinese trading ship that captured a pirate in Singapore seas. When brought ashore, the pirate's hair was cropped, an act known in Malay as ditokong. To commemorate this victory, the islanders called the island Pulau Tokong or Pulau Tekong.
- The early islanders on Pulau Tekong were believed to be Orang Melayu from Pahang who first arrived in 1857 before the outbreak of a civil war in their native Pahang. A key area affected by the war was a district called Teluk Tekong. The refugees from Teluk Tekong chanced upon the island and named their new home Pulau Tekong in memory of their previous land.
(1) Pulau means "Island" and Tekong means "an obstacle", so called because the island blocks the mouth of the Johore River.
(2) In the Kamus Dewan, tekong means "ruas", connected with "bamboo" or "sugarcane".
(3) The word tekong could also refer to a deep cleft in a giant rock that collects water from rain and dew on the island.
Indonesian name: In Bahasa Indonesia, tekong means "something that is not straight or wavy"; in the Minangkabau dialect it denotes something heavy.
Chinese name: Tekong is believed to be derived from the dialect word taikong, meaning "ship's captain".
Bull's eye! With tranquilliser (1990, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Chen, P. S., & Lee, L. S. (2012). A retrospect on the dust-laden history: The past and present of Tekong Island in Singapore. Singapore: World Scientific. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 CHE)
Elephants must be removed for 'own good' (1990, June 3).The Sunday Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
How Pulau Tekong derives its name (1985, January 21). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Land reclamation at Ubin, Tekong by '95. (1993, January 1). The Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Praise for joint Singapore, Malaysia rescue team (1990, June 10). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Significant finds of earthenware on Pulau Tekong. (1987, November 19).The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from Factiva.
Soil checks on Pulau Ubin, Pulau Tekong to start soon (1993, January 2). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Trackers hot on trail of runaway jumbos (1990, June 7). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Trapped: Two of Tekong's three elephants (1990, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Wanted: Tusk force to catch wild elephants on Tekong (1990, May 31). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2012 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.