Kampung Tempe Book - Voices From A Malay Village

Authors: Dr. Yahaya Sanusi and Hidayah Amin

Published: 23 July 2016

Format: Hardcover

Published By: Helang Books



kampung tempe

This book conveys fragments of the village's history and retells stories from the bygone days of the early settlement, such as the villagers' fear of living in bunkers during the war, and their struggle sourcing for food that led them to produce tempe or fermented soya bean cakes, for which the village later came to be known.


In early 1905, a group of Javanese, led by Alias Bin Ali, started a settlement on a hillside in Singapore, not far from the present Sixth Avenue, off Bukit Timah Road. The swampy land then was infested with mosquitoes and quite uninhabitable. Despite the challenging circumstances, the Javanese settlers, most of whom were farmers and gardeners, successfully cultivated vegetables such as tapioca, chilli and even tobacco.


A hundred years later, the village disappeared. The only visual testament to the prior existence of the village - sited on one of the most expensive residential areas in Singapore - is a small mosque named Masjid Al-Huda, located along Jalan Haji Alias.


Excerpts from the book


The Javanese Came


The Pandan River has its source near Kampung Tempe, hence its name Ulu Pandan. Ulu means the farthest point, and in this case, the farthest point from the estuary, far away from the maddening crowd of the city centre. The Ulu Pandan area between fifth and sixth milestones off Bukit Timah Road was scarcely inhabited. The ground with its granite base and mud soil was not very fertile and did not provide good natural drainage, hence the area was constantly flooded. Besides the few kampong huts, the only striking landmark was the forty-hectare Chinese cemetry (the size of 100 soccer fields) located near the sixth milestone of the precinct presently known as Sixth Avenue.


Land Grant

Haji Alias bin Ali was a gardener who led an austere and frugal life. Like many other villagers in Kendal in Java, he had travelled from Indonesia to Singapore before the turn of the century in search of happiness. Having worked very hard, he managed to save sufficient money at a relatively young age and soon bought a plot of land near Coronation Road, on which he built his house. Now he had his own kebun (garden).The rumah panggung on stilts was his pride. It was the first house in this new village. Though it was neither big nor pompous unlike some of the new kampong houses built elsewhere on this island, most importantly, the house was a symbol of the fruit of his labour and it belonged to him.


Tempe Industry

About a year after Wak Sidol started his tempe production, others in the village saw a chance for them to be involved in the business as well, and jumped into the bandwagon. After one family in the adjacent street of Jalan LimTai See joined in the trade, others followed suit. Although the tempe-making process was not easy, Sidol was kind and gracious and provided useful tips to all of them. At its peak, there were as many as five families carrying on the business, in what could possibly comprise the largest scale ever of the tempe-making industry in Singapore.


Come leaf through these pages, and listen to the voices from a Malay village, engulfed by modernity and the effluxion of time.


The book is available from most major bookstores in Singapore and some online bookstores.