Sago Lane

Sago Lane, a one-way road, connects South Bridge Road to Banda Street. The street got its name from the many sago factories that used to be there in the 1840s. A part of Chinatown, Sago Lane was also known for the Chinese "death houses".

Sago Lane is a short stretch of road running parallel to Sago Street. Located next to Sago Street, much of Sago Lane's history is similar to that of Sago Street. From being a prosperous sago flour manufacturing centre in the mid-19th century, it was reduced to a prostitution area in the early 20th century. The most defining feature of Sago Lane, however, was its Chinese death houses.

People believed to be living the last days of their lives would be left at death houses to die, and among them were destitutes. Typically, a death house consisted of a living space on the first level and a funeral parlour below. There is a belief among the Chinese that a one could bring one's belongings to the next world when one dies. Therefore fake paper money and paper models of various things, like a house or a car, are burnt during funerals to effect that transition. The whole of Sago Lane had shops that sold paraphernalia used in funerals, like paper models, clothes, flowers, appliances and other things that would be dear to the deceased. Currently, shops selling such items are located in the nearby Banda Street. As Chinese funerals were extended affairs that continued through days and nights, many foods stalls were found on Sago Lane and Banda Street, catering to night visitors and mourners. With the banning of death houses in 1961, this era came to an end.

The construction of Kreta Ayer Complex, also called Chinatown Complex, in the early 1970s resulted in the removal of part of Sago Lane. In 1975, old shophouses on one side of the street were demolished and Housing Board blocks were built there. Currently, Sago Lane with its few old shophouses, enjoys STB's efforts to revive Chinatown once popular with food stalls and quaint trades.

Variant Names
Chinese names:
(1) In Hokkien Ho-ban-ni au koi and in Cantonese, Ho-man-nin hau-pin kai, both of which mean "the street behind Ho-man-nin". Ho-man-nin was the chop or seal of a popular singing hall or brothel on Sago Street. 
(2) In Cantonese Sayyun Kai, meaning "street of the dead", a reference to the dramatic death houses on this street.

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

Chinatown: An album of a Singapore community. (1983). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 779. 995957 CHI)

Dunlop, P. K. G. (2000). Street names of Singapore (p. 267). Singapore: Who's Who Publications.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 DUN)

Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2003). Toponymics: A study of Singapore street names (p. 337). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.
(Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV)

Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then and now (p. 192). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE)

Firmstone, H. W. (1905, January). Chinese names of streets and places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 4, 126-127.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5 FIR-[IC])

Chan, K. S. (2001, October 15). Paper chase in afterlife. The Straits Times, Life, p. 5.

Chan, K. S. (1999, March 13). No love lost for the old "street of the dead'. The Straits Times, Life, p. 7.

The information in this article is valid as at 2003 and correct as far as we can 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.

Funeral rites and ceremonies--Singapore
Streets and Places
People and communities>>Customs>>Death customs
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Street names--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Ethnic Communities>>Customs and Traditions

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