by Koh, Jaime
Ama Keng was one of the three villages in Lim Chu Kang, located just off Lim Chu Kang Road. It took its name from a temple dedicated to Mazu, goddess of the sea, which was built in the area in 1900. In the 1950s, the government developed Ama Keng into a bustling farming site to serve as Singapore’s main food production centre. The area’s population also grew rapidly during this period as it became one of the sites used by the government to resettle squatters. In the 1980s, residents of Ama Keng and the neighbouring villages were resettled to Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates to make way for the area’s redevelopment into an agrotechnology park. Today, most of the former Ama Keng site has been cordoned off for military use.
Located just off Lim Chu Kang Road in the northwestern part of Singapore, the Ama Keng village was named after a temple dedicated to Mazu, the Chinese goddess of the sea whom followers believed protected seafarers.1 The name “Ama Keng” (Ya Ma Gong in Mandarin; 亚妈宫) is a Teochew term meaning “Temple of the Goddess”. The temple, established in 1900 by Weng Yiquan (翁翼泉), Lin Ziming (林子明) and Lin Yushun (林玉顺), was located on a small jetty at the end of a branch of the Kranji River. After the temple was completed, a statue of the deity was brought there from the Yueh Hai Ching Temple in Singapore’s central business district.2
In the early 20th century, the area was said to have been part of a gambier plantation owned by a Teochew man surnamed Lim.3 Sometime around 1914, landowner Alexander William Cashin bought 800 ac of land in Lim Chu Kang and tasked Neo Tiew – who later gave his name to Neo Tiew Road – to clear it. Neo subsequently helped manage the pineapple and rubber plantations established on the cleared land. He also managed the neighbouring Namazie Estate.4
Ama Keng Village
Ama Keng Village appeared in a government topographical survey map dated 1938. The village was at the time surrounded by coconut and pineapple estates.5 On 9 February 1942, during the Battle of Singapore, Ama Keng Village became one of the first areas on the island to fall to the invading Japanese army.6
After the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), Ama Keng Village developed rapidly following the government’s plan in the 1950s to transform the area into Singapore’s main food production centre. The plan involved turning Ama Keng Village into the largest vegetable farming area in Singapore with 750 ac reserved for cultivation.7 Ama Keng was chosen over Changi because of its cheaper land and more suitable soil for growing vegetables.8 Under the plan, each farmer selected by the government was given seeds, fertiliser, farming equipment, livestock and two to three acres of land in the area to manage.9 The farmers were granted a year-to-year temporary occupancy licence. Besides vegetables, the farmers also grew fruits and reared poultry and pigs.10
The main road in the area was named Ama Keng Road in 1954,11 and once extended to Sungei Tengah.12 Many of the road’s small side lanes have since been expunged13 and a large section of Ama Keng Road is now closed to public access.14
Rural resettlement area
In 1956, the government launched a scheme known as “Operation Clean-up” as part of its efforts to resettle squatters from across the island. The Lim Chu Kang area, which included Ama Keng, was one of the sites where squatters were resettled.15 By 1968, the Ama Keng resettlement area, also known as the Ama Keng Agricultural Settlement, comprised 738 ac of land with 38 households consisting of 214 individuals.16
In the 1960s and ’70s, Ama Keng Village was well served by shops, a police station as well as a maternity and child welfare centre.17 The centre closed down in 1981 and the police station in 1989.18
Ama Keng English School
Ama Keng English School was founded in 1951 as a government school for boys and girls.19 In 1990, the school moved from Ama Keng Road to Choa Chu Kang Central and was renamed South View Primary.20 The old school building in Ama Keng was subsequently converted into a hostel for foreign workers.21
Kay Wah School (Branch I)
Kay Wah School was established in 1938 by a group of educators led by Neo Tiew, who founded the Lim Chu Kang area and was the village head of Ama Keng. The school was an amalgamation of several private Chinese study centres situated in the area. The main school was established at Tong Hong Village and subsequently expanded to include two other branches. Branch I was situated at Ama Keng Village while branch II was at Nam Hoe Village.22 Originally a Chinese-medium school, Kay Wah became an English-medium school in 1980.23 In 1988, the hitherto government-aided school became a full-fledged government school and was renamed Qihua Primary School, the hanyu pinyin of “Kay Wah”, following its move to Woodlands Street 81.24
Ama Keng Clinic
Former member of Parliament for Ayer Rajah (1980–2006) Tan Cheng Bock started his medical practice Ama Keng Clinic in the village in 1971. Sometime in the 1980s, Tan had to move his clinic out of the area as the villagers were being resettled to make way for redevelopment. The clinic, which retained its name, relocated several times to other parts of the island before it closed down permanently on 22 November 2012.25
By the 1980s, Ama Keng was being referred to as the “land of the chicken farms” due to the numerous chicken farms found there.26 In the mid-1980s, the Primary Production Department (PPD) announced that land in Ama Keng and the neighbouring areas of Tengah and Choa Chu Kang would be redeveloped into high-tech, high-yield agrotechnology farms.27 Most of the families in Ama Keng were subsequently resettled at the nearby HDB estates as a result.28
In 1994, Ama Keng became one of eight designated agrotechnology parks in Singapore under the PPD. Plots of land ranging from 2 to 30 ha in size were tendered out on 20-year leases.29 The scheme involved converting 1,700 ha of land (or about 500 farms) into highly productive agricultural land that made use of modern technology for intensive horticulture, fish and livestock farming. With these farms, the goal was for Singapore to produce 30 percent of its vegetables, fish and eggs locally by 1998, up from 10 percent before the scheme started.30
In 2014, the government announced that the leases on these farms would not be renewed as the area had been earmarked for military use.31
In 1959, a site in the Ama Keng area was cleared for the construction of a runway for military use.32 By 1971, Ama Keng had already become a gazetted military exercise area.33 In the 1980s, more land in the area was requisitioned for the Tengah Air Base and an army camp.34 Today, much of the Ama Keng area is used for military purposes.35
1. Singapore Land Authority. (n.d.). Singapore street map. Retrieved 2016, July 16 from OneMap website: onemap.sg; 灵抒 [Ling, S]. (1978, March 9). 我所认识的亚妈宫村 [The Ama Keng Village I knew]. 《南洋商报》 [Nanyang Siang Pau], p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. 吴新慧 [Wu, X. H.]. (1987, February 16). 请别拆除亚妈宫 [Please do not demolish Ama Keng]. 《联合早报》[Lianhe Wanbao], p. 7; 彭松涛 [Peng, S. T.]. (1987, July 26). 海上福星陆上神 [Lucky star of the sea, deity of the land]. 《联合晚报》 [Lianhe Wanbao], p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. Note that the name Lin Yushun is written as Lin Yishun (林义顺) in these two sources, but in others it is Lin Yushun: 林厝港阿妈宫赔款捐义安公司充慈善 [Lim Chu Kang Ama Keng donates to Ngee Ann Kongsi charity]. (1988, March 22). 《联合晚报》[Lianhe Wanbao], p. 9; 妈祖神像今天送返粤海清庙 [Mazu goddess returns to Yuehaiqing temple today]. (1988, March 21). 《联合晚报》 [Lianhe Wanbao], p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 柯冰蓉 [Ke, B. R.]. (2017, February–May). 阿妈宫商店街忆旧 [Reminiscences of Ama Keng’s shopping street]. Yihe Shiji, (31), 86–89, pp. 88–89. Retrieved from Ee Hoe Hean Club website: http://www.eehoehean.org/upload/file/14846334935159.pdf. Note that Ke’s article places the temple’s founding in the 1920s.
3. 彭松涛 [Peng, S. T.]. (1987, July 26). 海上福星陆上神 [Lucky star of the sea, deity of the land]. 《联合晚报》 [Lianhe Wanbao], p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. 李诚利 [Li, C. L.]. (2015). 《梁后宙与林厝港》 [Liang Hou Zhou and Lin Cuo Gang]. 新加坡: 新加坡南安会馆艺文社, pp. 42–50. Retrieved from PublicationSG; 彭松涛 [Peng, S. T.]. (1987, July 26). 海上福星陆上神 [Lucky star of the sea, deity of the land]. 《联合晚报》 [Lianhe Wanbao], p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Singapore Land Authority. (1938). Johore and Singapore [Topographical map, accession no. TM001046]. Retrieved from the National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
6. The final showdown. (1992, January 31). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Rush on for farm land in Singapore. (1954, February 10). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Hundreds to get land in Singapore. (1953, September 13). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Hundreds to get land in Singapore. (1953, September 13). The Straits Times, p. 9; Singapore to give more land to the farmer. (1953, October 26). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Brown, D. W. (1960). A reconnaissance study of farming organization in the Ama Keng food production area. Singapore: Economics Department, University of Malaya in Singapore, p. ii. (Call no.: RCLOS 338.1095957 BRO)
11. Singapore Rural Board. (1954). Annual report. Singapore: Govt. Print. Off., p. 8. Retrieved from PublicationSG.
12. National Archives of Singapore. (1982). Singapore. Ama Keng [Topographical map, accession no. TM001057]. Retrieved from the National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
13. Singapore Land Authority. One historical map. Retrieved 2016, August 15 from One Historical Map website: https://ohm.onemap.sg/#/index/main
14. Streetdirectory.com. (n.d.). Ama Keng Road. Retrieved 2016, August 31 from Street Directory.com website: http://www.streetdirectory.com/sg/ama-keng-road/16969_1.html
15. Giant land survey to help the squatters. (1956, September 29). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Yeh, S., & Statistics and Research Dept., Housing and Development Board. (1968). Report on the census of resettlement areas, Singapore, 1968. Singapore: Govt. Print. Off., pp. ii–iii. (Call no. RCLOS 312.9 SIN); Singapore Survey Department. (1972). Singapore Guide and Street Directory 1972. Singapore: Survey Department, p. 56. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN)
17. 灵抒 [Ling Shu]. (1978, March 9). 我所认识的亚妈宫村 [The Ama Keng Village I knew] 《南洋商报》[Nanyang Siang Pau], p. 25; Braga to open new centre. (1956, January 7). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7; Rustic Ama Keng police post to close after 35 years. (1989, June 28). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Clinics to close. (1981, March 25). New Nation, p. 4; Rustic Ama Keng police post to close after 35 years. (1989, June 28). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. 1,840 can study in 3 new schools. (1951, August 25). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Chua, C. J. (1990, December 17). ’Tis the season to move… The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. An old school building with rubbish all around. (2007, January 15). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. 梁后宙开拓林厝港 [Liang Hou Zhou opens Lim Chu Kang]. (2014, November 20). 《联合早报》[Lianhe Zaobao], p. 14. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Qihua Primary School. (2012). School profile. Retrieved 2016, August 15 from Qihua Primary School website: http://www.qihuapri.moe.edu.sg/aboutus_history.html
23. 王疏敏 [Wang, Y. M.]. (1985, May 14). 启化第一分校的发展: 从简陋的戏台到建筑特别的校舍 [Development of Qi Hua’s first branch school: From rickety opera stage to special school building]. 《联合晚报》[Lianhe Wanbao], p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. 今年14中小学关闭另有7间小学合并 [14 secondary and primary schools to close this year and seven to merge]. (1987, December 29). 《联合早报》[Lianhe Zaobao], p. 4; Six of eight new schools to open in Yishun and Tampines. (1988, January 2). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Dr Tan Cheng Bock to contest next presidential election. (2016, March 11). AsiaOne. Retrieved 2016, August 3 from AsiaOne website: http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/dr-tan-cheng-bock-contest-next-presidential-election; Tan, C. B. (2012, November 21). The story of Ama Keng clinic. Retrieved 2016, July 22 from Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TanChengBock/posts/382540781820463
26. Miller, B. (1984, March 29). Chicken farm country. The Straits Times, p. 1; Choo, S. E. (1984, April 23). Chicken-and-egg poser. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Lee, L. (1986, September 4). First steps taken to transform Singapore into agrotech centre. The Business Times, p. 16; Tan, B. H. (1987, February 24). Temple which was once hub of a community. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Housing and Development Board, Singapore. (1988). HDB annual report 1987/1988. Singapore: Housing and Development Board, p. 79. (Call no.: RCLOS 711.4095957 SIN-[AR]
29. Sit, Y. F. (1994, October 10). Eight parks provide high-tech services. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Yeo, H. Y. (1994, May 15). New scheme to train hi-tech farmers. The Straits Times, p. 25; Nathan, D. (1993, November 28). Farms are back and they’re high-tech. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Aw, C. W. (2014, November 21). Kampung spirit alive in Lim Chu Kang. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Singapore Improvement Trust. (1959). The work of the Singapore Improvement Trust, 1959. Singapore: Singapore Improvement Trust, p. 33. Retrieved from PublicationSG.
33. Statement today on army exercise death. (1971, October 5). New Nation, p. 1 Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Leong, C. T. (1989, June 28). Rustic Ama Keng police post to close after 35 years. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Ho, H. C. (2006, October 20). Cultivating an identity through nature. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ng, K. G. (2016, May 5). SAF and RSAF military and live firing exercises to start next week. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Jalelah Abu Bakar & Lim, Y. L. (2012, September 29). NSman’s death: Tree was checked in April. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2017 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.