Endau Settlement

Endau Settlement was a 300,000-acre agricultural settlement set up at Endau, in the Malayan state of Johor during the Japanese Occupation for Chinese settlers.1 It was considered the most successful self-sufficiency scheme initiated by the Japanese authorities to ease the food supply problem in Singapore.2 Under the scheme, the Chinese population in Singapore was encouraged to resettle outside Singapore, in areas where they could farm and live off the land.3 Endau Settlement was also known as New Syonan Model Farm.4

During the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), Singapore’s foreign trade was disrupted because of the ongoing war.With Singapore depending on imports for a large portion of its food supply, this put a strain on the food supply for the island’s population of one million. To solve the food shortage problem, the Japanese authorities promoted the Grow More Food Campaign, and encouraged the people to become self-sufficient by growing their own food. In August 1943, the Japanese decided to evacuate about 300,000 Chinese in Singapore, and resettle them north of the island to cultivate the land there.6

The responsibility for carrying out the project was placed on Mamoru Shinozaki, Head of Welfare Department in the Syonan Municipality,7 who in turn approached the Overseas Chinese Association (OCA) to build a settlement for the Chinese. Shinozaki persuaded the OCA to agree to the project by promising that the new settlement would be self-governing, and that no Japanese would set foot in the settlement. In addition, the settlement was assured of rice supply until it became self-sufficient. A New Syonan Model Farm Construction Committee was then set up under the chairmanship of Lim Boon Keng, who was then the chairman of OCA.8 A team was dispatched to Malaya to scout for a suitable site, and after some consideration, Endau in Johor was selected as the site for the new settlement, owing to its accessible supply of fresh water and arable land that was suitable for agriculture.9

Construction work began soon after OCA raised $1 million to develop the settlement. The jungle was cleared, and houses and roads were built, in preparation for the arrival of the Chinese.10 To entice them to participate in the scheme, pioneer settlers were promised free allotment of land which amounted to four acres per person.11 The first settlers arrived at Endau in September 1943.12 They had to live in barracks made of wooden platforms and opeh (betel nut palm) leaves, until the administration allocated land for them to build their own houses. The settlers were also provided with basic farming tools and seeds to begin planting.13

The backbreaking work was a challenge as most of the settlers did not have construction or farming experience.14 The OCA assigned suitable leaders to help them, and a management committee was subsequently formed. It comprised Tan Hoon Siang, great-grandson of Tan Tock Seng, who became the head of the agricultural department at Endau;15 Chen Kee Sun, manager; Dr Hu Tsai Kuen and Dr Chen Ah Po, medical and health department; Low Peng Swee, supply department; Wu Mon Chew, public works department; Leong Yuen Ho, timber mill; and Wong Tatt Sang, public peace and order. Public peace and order was later managed by Lo Po Yee and G. H. Kiat.16 The pioneers also learned to be self-reliant, and made their own soap, coconut oil and condensed milk.17

Despite the difficulties posed by the new environment,18 a number of people were attracted to the settlement because of the promised rice supply, and more importantly, the assurance that the affairs of the settlement would be administered by OCA, and Japanese authorities would not interfere.19 The population of the settlement grew, and by the end of the first year, there were 12,000 settlers in Endau.20 The settlement had a school, a bank, a paper factory, a sawmill and several restaurants.21 However, life at the settlement was disrupted by the activities of Chinese anti-Japanese guerrillas, which claimed the lives of several settlement officials and civilians.22 Peace was only restored after Shinozaki entered into a secret pact with the guerrillas, offering rice in exchange for peace.23

The settlement was abandoned after the Japanese surrendered in 1945.24 Besides Endau, the Japanese also created a settlement in Bahau (in Negri Sembilan, Malaya) for the Eurasians and Chinese Roman Catholics,25 and a settlement in Pulau Bintan for the Indians.26

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. Malcolm H. Murfett, et al., Between Two Oceans: A Military History of Singapore from First Settlement to Final British Withdrawal (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1999), 258. (Call no. RSING 355.0095957 BET)
2. Lee Geok Boi, The Syonan Years: Singapore under Japanese Rule 1942–1945 (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore & Epigram, 2005), 168 (Call no. RSING q940.53957 LEE-[WAR]); Mamoru Shinozaki, My Wartime Experiences in Singapore (Singapore: Institute of South-East Asian Studies, 1973), 75. (Call no. RSEA 959.57023 SHI-[HIS])
3. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore, 1819–1988 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), 208. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
4. Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story: The Japanese Occupation of Singapore (Singapore: Times Books International, 1982), 81–85. (Call no. RSING 959.57023 SHI-[HIS])
5. Lee, Syonan Years, 157.
6. Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story, 79–82.
7. Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story, 79–82; Turnbull, History of Singapore, 198.
8. Lee, Syonan Years, 244.
9. Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story, 81; Tan Beng Luan and Irene Quah, The Japanese Occupation 1942–1945: A Pictorial Record of Singapore during the War (Singapore: Times Editions, 1996), 135 (Call no. RSING q940.5425 TAN-[WAR]); Turnbull, History of Singapore, 166; Murfett, et al., Between Two Oceans, 256.
10. Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story, 80–81; Turnbull, History of Singapore, 198, 208; Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 71.
11. Murfett, et al., Between Two Oceans, 258.
12. Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story, 82.
13. Lee, Syonan Years, 166.
14. Lee, Syonan Years, 166.
15. Lee, Syonan Years, 167.
16. Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story, 82.
17. Lee, Syonan Years, 171.
18. Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 79.
19. Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 72.
20. Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story, 85; Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 74.
21. Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story, 82–83; Lee, Syonan Years, 166.
22. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 208; Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story, 83–84.
23. Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story, 83–84; Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 76–78.
24. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 208; Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 78.
25. Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story, 87; Tan and Quah, Pictorial Record of Singapore, 136; Shinozaki, Wartime Experiences in Singapore, 81–85.
26. Lee, Syonan Years, 164.

The information in this article is valid as at August 2019 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.

Heritage and Culture
Malaya--History--Japanese occupation, 1942-1945
Singapore--History--Japanese occupation, 1942-1945
1942-1945 Japanese occupation