Stories of the Singapore River would be incomplete without the twakow and tongkang, two types of wooden lighter boats.
These wooden boats were the lifeline of the Singapore River, and there were about 3,000 of them in their heyday. Their contribution was so significant that they were depicted on Singapore’s $2 and $5 currency notes in the 1984 to 1999 Ship series.
For those who wish to view such boats physically, there are a few old but very hardy twakows still in seaworthy condition which continue to carry dry or packaged cargo. You can spot them at the Marina South Pier mooring area and Jurong River (above).
But there are no tongkangs around today.
As part of preserving the stories and treasures of Singapore as a maritime nation, I suggest that the National Heritage Board and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore examine the heritage and cultural value of these “made in Singapore” traditional boats, and see if a conservation or preservation programme is merited.
It would be easier to preserve them now than to carry out expensive underwater restoration work on a twakow or tongkang wreck many years into the future.
Kuet Ee Yoon
Singapore Maritime Heritage Interest Group