Pulau Tekong, is an island off the north-eastern 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 utilised for military purposes. Many versions to the origins of its name abound, mostly buried in folklore.
Pulau Tekong, was originally two islands with the 2442.6 ha Pulau Tekong (often known as Pulau Tekong Besar in Malay, it means "big Tekong Island"), and the 89 ha Pulau Tekong Kechil (in Malay it means "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, 17 km long and 12 km wide.
In 1956, there was a population of as many as 4,000 people who were mainly Malays. 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 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 with the island today dedicated exclusively for military use. Most of Singapore's 18-year old men are sent to Pulau Tekong for their compulsory Basic Military Training (BMT), as a start to their National Service to the country.
In 1987, Archaeologists discovered earthenware pieces at Kampong Permatang on the north-west of the island, opposite the Johore River mouth and the old Johore Lama location, an historical site. The finds are significant, and appear to be similar to others found in Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia, including Borneo, from the prehistoric-Neolithic era, and the 15th and 16th centuries, indicative of some trading activities on this island in the past. Other finds included Chinese stoneware and a big fragment of a 16th century Sukhotai bowl. These discoveries have been sent to Universities in the United Kingdom age verification.
Elephants on the island
A group of National Servicemen from Singapore Armed Forces in May 1990, spotted three 'Wild Bull' elephants on the island. The elephants were thought to have swum across the Straits of Johore, from Johore, the closest natural habitat. Help was sought from the Singapore Zoo, who got assistance from the Malaysian Wildlife authorities, to capture these animals as the island, which is used for military training, would prove unsuitable as a home for the elephants. The joint Singapore-Malaysia rescue team eventually succeeded in subdueing 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 arrived in 1804 at 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". And in the Minangkabau dialect it denotes something heavy.
Chinese Name: Tekong is believed to be derived from the dialect word taikong which means the "ship's captain".
Vernon Cornelius-Takahama, 2000
Bull's eye! With tranquilliser (1990, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 1.
Elephants must be removed for 'own good' (1990, June 3).The Sunday Times, p. 16.
How Pulau Tekong derives its name (1985, January 21). The Straits Times, p. 4.
Land reclamation at Ubin, Tekong by '95 (1993, January 1). The Straits Times, p. 20.
Praise for joint Singapore, Malaysia rescue team (1990, June 10). The Straits Times, p. 3
Significant' finds of earthenware on Pulau Tekong (1987, November 19).The Straits Times, p. 1. See also Section 2: 2
Soil checks on Pulau Ubin, Pulau Tekong to start soon (1993, January 2). The Straits Times, p. 21.
Trackers hot on trail of runaway jumbos (1990, June 7). The Straits Times, p. 18.
Trapped: Two of Tekong's three elephants (1990, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 1.
Wanted: Tusk force to catch wild elephants on Tekong (1990, May 31). The Straits Times, p. 3.
The information in this article is valid as at 2000 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.