Five-foot-way traders



Five-foot-way traders were craftsmen who conducted their businesses along shophouse walkways that were five feet wide.1 These traders were immigrants2 of various ethnicities3 who came to early Singapore and could be found in areas such as Chinatown.4
History
The five-foot way was a unique feature of Malaya’s shophouses.5 Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, stipulated that shophouses must have a covered walkway of about five feet along its street front.6 These walkways were meant to protect pedestrians from the hot tropical sun as well as rain.7 However, with the influx of immigrants, work became increasingly difficult to find.8 Many of the old and unemployed thus began using these corridors to set up small businesses instead. The Hokkiens began referring to these businesses as gho kha ki (“five-foot way” in the Hokkien dialect).9


Job scope
The five-foot-way trades provided inexpensive commodities and services.10 They required little capital investment and had flexible working hours. They operated wherever space was available and could shift easily to other places. Five-foot-way traders included: knife sharpeners,11 roadside barbers,12 mask makers,13 fortune tellers,14 locksmiths,15 letter writers, traditional “medicine men” (known as bomoh in Malay), newspaper vendors, storytellers,16 tinsmiths, hair-bun makers, stool makers,17 garland makers, stamp dealers and food vendors.18 Trades were either brought over from their homelands or acquired locally.19

Development
The hustle and bustle of businesses used to overflowed onto the streets in early Singapore.20 Despite the cramped conditions of some of these shophouses, the owners allowed a peaceful coexistence with the traders. Some of these traders later became itinerant as they began to travel with their equipment21 to provide their services door to door or because they found more profits as travelling hawkers. By the mid-1970s, some five-foot-way trades had disappeared although some of these professions are still practised in a modern setting today.22



Author

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja



References
1. Ong, C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders. Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV)
2. Raffles ordered the provision of five-foot-ways. (1987, March 16). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Ong C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders. Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, pp. 13–14. (Call no.: RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV)
4. Sullivan, M. (1993). ‘Can survive, la’ cottage industries in high-rise Singapore. Singapore: Graham Brash, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 338.634095957 SUL)
5. Sullivan, M. (1993). ‘Can survive, la’ cottage industries in high-rise Singapore. Singapore: Graham Brash, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 338.634095957 SUL); Tan, S. S. (1998, April 10). Eat, drink on 5-foot ways. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Ong, C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders. Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV); Sullivan, M. (1993). ‘Can survive, la’ cottage industries in high-rise Singapore. Singapore: Graham Brash, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 338.634095957 SUL)
7.Tan, S. S. (1998, April 10). Eat, drink on 5-foot ways. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Sullivan, M. (1993). ‘Can survive, la’ cottage industries in high-rise Singapore. Singapore: Graham Brash, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 338.634095957 SUL)
9. Ong, C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders. Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV)
10. Ong, C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders. Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV); Sullivan, M. (1993). ‘Can survive, la’ cottage industries in high-rise Singapore. Singapore: Graham Brash, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 338.634095957 SUL)
11. Ong, C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders. Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, pp. 9, 33–35. (Call no.: RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV)
12. Singapore days of old: A special commemorative history of Singapore published on the 10th anniversary of Singapore Tatler. (1992). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 115. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN); Sullivan, M. (1993). ‘Can survive, la’ cottage industries in high-rise Singapore. Singapore: Graham Brash, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 338.634095957 SUL)
13. Sullivan, M. (1993). ‘Can survive, la’ cottage industries in high-rise Singapore. Singapore: Graham Brash, p. 37. (Call no.: RSING 338.634095957 SUL)
14. Singapore days of old: A special commemorative history of Singapore published on the 10th anniversary of Singapore Tatler. (1992). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 115. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN); Sullivan, M. (1993). ‘Can survive, la’ cottage industries in high-rise Singapore. Singapore: Graham Brash, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 338.634095957 SUL)
15. Sullivan, M. (1993). ‘Can survive, la’ cottage industries in high-rise Singapore. Singapore: Graham Brash, pp. 31–32. (Call no.: RSING 338.634095957 SUL)
16. Ong, C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders. Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, pp. 13–14, 22–23, 96, 101. (Call no.: RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV)
17. Sullivan, M. (1993). ‘Can survive, la’ cottage industries in high-rise Singapore. Singapore: Graham Brash, pp. 33–36. (Call no.: RSING 338.634095957 SUL)
18. Ong, C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders. Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, pp. 39–76, 87. (Call no.: RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV); Raffles ordered the provision of five-foot-ways. (1987, March 16). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Ong, C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders. Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV)
20. Ong, C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders. Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV)
21. Sullivan, M. (1993). ‘Can survive, la’ cottage industries in high-rise Singapore. Singapore: Graham Brash, p. 37. (Call no.: RSING 338.634095957 SUL); Ong, C. S., & Tan, B. L. (Eds.). (1985). Five-foot-way traders. Singapore: Archives and Oral History Department, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 779.9658870095957 FIV)
22. Singapore days of old: A special commemorative history of Singapore published on the 10th anniversary of Singapore Tatler. (1992). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 115. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)



Further resources
Chinese expo will have a window to the past. (1989, November 2). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Lee, V. (1985, August 16). Nostalgia for some. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Lim, S. K. (Producer). (1983). Chinatown in transition [Videotape]. Singapore: Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
(Call no.: RAV 959.57 CHI) 

The five-foot-way hawkers are turning the district into a fairy land of bright lights. (1960, October 26). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The vanishing trades [CD-ROM]. (1997). Singapore: Daichi Media.
(Call no.: RAV 338.642095957 VAN)



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
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services
Vanishing trade
Commerce and Industry>>Labour and Employment>>Vanishing Trades
Street vendors--Singapore
People and communities>>Social groups and communities