Tukang urut



Tukang urut is a Malay term for masseuse. The art of urut is a pioneering trade practised by both men and women. A tukang urut provides therapeutic and soothing body massages to provide relief for a range of muscle aches, cramps, pain and even strains. Female tukang urut also perform pre- and post-natal massages.

History
The art of urut is usually a well-kept secret of first-hand knowledge passed down from one masseuse to another. These masseuses are usually related by familial ties, but in some cases, can also be close family friends. A new tukang urut will typically massage their own relatives and friends living in the same kampong (Malay for “village”) before progressing to help those in other kampongs. There was no fixed fee and the tukang urut would accept any amount of money. Their knowledge and skills were deepened through practical experience accumulated over the years.

Some tukang urut also practiced traditional Malay medicine and were a popular source of medical assistance in the kampong. The tukang urut would dispense traditional Malay medicines, treating common ailments using plant-based ingredients and herbs known as Indonesian jamu.3 

Job scope
The skill of the tukang urut lies in their ability to give a body massage that not only soothes but sets right physical disorders. This is done by pressing their thumbs or hands on certain nerves in the body or pressure points.4 Though often unlettered, tukang urut are knowledgeable about various conditions of the human body and rely heavily on their knowledge of the human anatomy for massages.

Tukang urut use minyak (oil) with different ingredients in it, depending on the particular ailment, during the massage. The oil for muscular massages usually comprises aruda (Ruta graveolens), cekur (Kaempferia galangal), jerangau (Acorus calamus), bonglai (Zingiber cassumunar) and bawang merah (red onion). The ingredients are first pounded to a fine paste, boiled with cooking oil and then cooled.

The masseuse would apply the oil and massage the body using rhythmic and even strokes. Pressure to particular parts of the body would be applied according to a customer’s preference and condition.

Women would seek the services of a tukang urut for pre- and post-natal massages. This was to help tone up their abdominal muscles after childbirth. For new mothers, a bengkong, an eight metre cotton cloth, would be used as a cummerbund for 44 days. The abdomen of a new mother would be massaged with brandy, believed to tighten stretched skin, before being smeared with tamarind paste. The bengkong would then be wrapped around the abdomen tightly.8 Some tukung urut are able to provide midwifery and confinement services as well. In recent times, the government has required that such persons must be registered and come under the authority of the Singapore Nursing Board.

Over time, professional services have become preferred to traditional methods. With the advent of health spas and other related services, the demand for traditional tukang urut has been declining.10 Now, Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education (ITE) offers massage courses under their beauty and wellness programme11 and those interested in midwifery can attend certified midwife courses organised under the WINGS-KK Hospital Confinement Nanny Training Programme.12 For new mothers who are in need for assistance can contact professionally trained midwives from registered agencies.13   



References 
1.
Suryani Omar. (2002, May 22). The original Asian spa. The New Paper, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Heritage Board. (2013, March 14). Discover Singapore’s pioneering trades through firsthand accounts of six trademen and community contributions [Media release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
2.
The art of tukang urut. (1979). Goodwood Journal, 4th Qtr, pp.32‒33. (Call no.:RCLOS 052 GHCGJ); Abdul Ghani bin Hamid. (1992). Malay masseuses. In Lo-Ang, S.G., & Huan, C.C. (Eds.), Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 44. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN)  
3.
Suryani Omar. (2002, May 22). The original Asian spa. The New Paper, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.  
4.
Holmberg, J. (1978, November 1). Massage magic. New Nation, pp. 10‒11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5.
Abdul Ghani bin Hamid. (1992). Malay masseuses. In Lo-Ang, S.G., & Huan, C.C. (Eds.), Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 44. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN)
6.
Abdul Ghani bin Hamid. (1992). Malay masseuses. In Lo-Ang, S.G., & Huan, C.C. (Eds.), Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 42. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN)
7.
Abdul Ghani bin Hamid. (1992). Malay masseuses. In Lo-Ang, S.G., & Huan, C.C. (Eds.), Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 42‒43. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN) 
8.
The art of tukang urut. (1979). Goodwood Journal, 4th Qtr, p. 33. (Call no.:RCLOS 052 GHCGJ); Abdul Ghani bin Hamid. (1992). Malay masseuses. In Lo-Ang, S.G., & Huan, C.C. (Eds.), Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 43. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN)
9.
Singapore Nursing Board. About SNB. Retrieved from Singapore Nursing Board website: http://www.healthprofessionals.gov.sg/content/hprof/snb/en/topnav/about_snb.html; Singapore. The Statutes of the Republic of Singapore. (2012 Rev. ed.). Nurses and Midwives Act (Cap. 209). Singapore: [s.n.] Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3A3f37c2bf-4f72-4fa4-a166-eadc0769a866%20Depth%3A0;rec=0;resUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fstatutes.agc.gov.sg%2Faol%2Fbrowse%2FtitleResults.w3p%3Bletter%3DN%3BpNum%3D1%3Btype%3DactsAll;whole=yes
10.
Suryani Omar. (2002, May 22). The original Asian spa. The New Paper, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
11.
Institute of Technical Education. High Nitec in Beauty & Spa Management. Retrieved from Institute of Technical Education website: https://www.ite.edu.sg/wps/portal/FullTimeCBS/?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/wps/wcm/connect/itecontentlib/stecoursecatalog/staallcourses/stafulltime/7f1194004445c1bb8a0ebbf372c2c2fd 
12 .Council for Third Age. Be a certified confinement nannies. Confinement nanny training programme. Retrieved from Council for Third  Age (C3A) website: http://scarlet.c3a.org.sg/activity/confinement-nanny-training-programme 
13.
Tan, T. (2009, October 9). More home-grown confinement nannies. The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National University Hospital. Midwives who deliver more than just babies. Retrieved from National University Hospital website: https://www.nuh.com.sg/news/media-articles_2396.html 



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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. 

Subject
Health and medicine>>Medication and therapies>>Therapeutic massage
Commerce and Industry>>Labour and Employment>>Vanishing Trades
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services
Midwives--Singapore
Vanishing trade
Massage--Singapore