Koh Hoon Teck

by Tan, Bonny

Koh Hoon Teck (b. 1878? – 14 February 1956, Singapore),  was both a publisher of several Baba Malay titles and a bookseller. The Peranakan was beloved by his community for keeping the unique Peranakan art of dondang sayang alive.

Early life
Koh was the only son of Koh Lian Gee. In his youth, he had been a member of the Cornwall Minstrels, a singing group which included several young Babas. He remained its avid supporter, often hosting the group for their annual general meetings. In 1909, he was elected honorary secretary for the group.

Peranakan performing arts
Koh was credited for introducing the bangsawan to Malaya, a Malay opera troupe originating from Dutch-occupied Indonesia. The bangsawan later was adapted by the Peranakans into their own wayang Peranakan. However, it is his passion for the classic art of dondang sayang for which he is most remembered for. The poetic repartee of songs demands a strong understanding of Baba Malay and its lyrical innuendos. He was one of the founding members of the Gunong Sayang Association which was formed in 1910. Every weekend, Peranakans would gather at the Association to practice and perform dondang sayang with Koh often accompanying them on the violin. His home at 105 Chin Swee Road was often the venue of musical activities including visits of groups such as the Cornwell Minstrels. In his older years, Koh was seen as a mentor and guide to the next generation of dondang sayang singers. His publication, Panton dondang sayang Baba Baba Pranakan was a much awaited collection of dondang sayang songs and poems. The three-volume collection of poems were published between 1911 to 1917 soon after the founding of the Gunong Sayang Association. This probably reflected a growing interest in the art of Dondang Sayang during this period. Its five volumes were reprinted several times under Koh's own publishing house Koh & Co.

Book publisher
The Koh & Co. publishing house, located at 90 Bras Basah Road in Raffles Hotel, published Baba Malay titles such as Cherita Abu Nawas and Cherita Abu Nawas dan Cherita Rampay Rampay as well as his own collection of poems in Panton dondang sayang Baba Baba Pranakan. This collection also printed postcards of early Singapore. Koh also published a monthly journal the Postcard Exchange Register which is believed to have started in 1907. It featured events concerning postcards such as postcards exhibitions and other details which postcard afficionados would be interested in. Besides books, his shop sold an array of goods from stationary to perfumery. In fact, he was known for bringing new scents into Singapore such as the stangee, a scented wood, and bunga rampay, a floral-based scent. However, his business did not always succeed and his family was known to have faced difficult times.

Personal life and death
Koh also has his name listed in the 1916 Straits Settlements Legislative Council Proceedings as a juror. He lost his three sons to the Sook Ching massacre during World War II, including Koh Kung Chuan, who had served as a private in the Royal Army Service Corp.

At his own funeral, dondang sayang poems and rhymes accompanied his cortege as requested. He was interred according to an ancient Chinese custom. Koh's eldest son had to don layers of silken Ming robes while standing on a chair. After consuming a bowl of vermicelli, he transferred his robes to his deceased father. The ritual goes back two centuries when the Chinese allied themselves with the Ming against the invading Manchus. Koh was laid to rest at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

19-- : Panton dondang sayang Baba Baba Pranakan

Grandmother: Mrs Chia Kiow Neo (d. 1910, January 17)
Father: Koh Lian Gee (Ghee)
Sons: Kong Swee, Kong Leong, Max Koh
Daughters: Mrs Chin Chye Fong, Mrs Thio Keng Tiang, Mrs Wee Tiang Siew and Mrs Pang Pee Nang


Bonny Tan


Cheah, J. S. (2006). Singapore: 500 early postcards (p.11). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet.
(Call No.: RSING 769.566095957 CHE)

Koh, H. T. (19--). Panton dondang sayang Baba Baba Pranakan [Microfilm: NL 18098]. Singapore: Koh & Co.
(Call No.: RSING 899.281 PAN)

Goh, P.  (1956, February 16).  Sing pantuns for me at my funeral. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved on February 28, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Gwee, T. H. W. (2007, July-September). Remembering Baba Koh Hoon Teck a pioneering Baba entrepreneur. The Peranakan, pp. 19-20.
(Call No.: RSING 305.895105957 PAN) 

He was buried with a song. (1956, February 19). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved on February 28, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore (pp. 378, 534). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call No.: RSING 959.57 SON)


The information in this article is valid as at 2006 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.

Koh, Hoon Teck, 1878?–1956
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Booksellers and bookselling--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Communication and media
Authors and publishers--Singapore--Biography
Publishers and publishing--Singapore

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