Pre-war sites off Shenton Way under scrutiny

History group plans to do study on intangible heritage of Tanjong Malang places of worship

The Fook Tet Soo temple predates the colonial period and is one of the earliest Chinese temples in Singapore. PHOTO: CHAR YONG ASSOCIATION

The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) is planning to do a study on the intangible heritage of three pre-war places of worship.

They are the 1844 Fook Tet Soo Hakka temple, the 1866 Keramat Habib Noh and the 1903 Haji Muhammad Salleh mosque in Palmer Road.

The Fook Tet Soo temple located at the foot of Mount Palmer predates the colonial period and is one of the earliest Chinese temples in Singapore. Meanwhile, at 37, Palmer Road, sit the Keramat Habib Noh shrine and Haji Muhammad Salleh mosque, where there is also a marble grave of Muslim saint Habib Noh, who died in 1866.

Tanjong Malang is the historic name of the area in which the three structures are sited, and its history from the colonial period to the present day has been largely overlooked, said experts.

The study is urgent as, although the structures will not be demolished, the area will soon make way for the construction of the Prince Edward Circle Line station, to be completed by 2025.

SHS president Chua Ai Lin told The Straits Times: "There are no studies of social life around these areas, so we don't realise how important these places might be as repositories of living heritage.

"We often make changes without knowing what's there. We must understand them (places and practices) better to continue to let them exist and thrive."

SHS has applied for funding under the National Heritage Board's new heritage research grant launched earlier this year. It is capped at $150,000 per project.

For the study, SHS plans to conduct in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and participant observation of events, activities and interactions.

The Hakka temple, for instance, has a rich history and culture. During celebrations, worshippers gather to eat Hakka cuisine and sing traditional songs, said SHS committee member Victor Yue, an engineer.

Dr Chua, a historian, said the study fits SHS' focus on intangible heritage as the society marks its 30th anniversary next year.

SHS added that existing heritage legislation focuses on architectural conservation and more attention needs to been given to intangible cultural heritage.

SHS vice-president Khir Johari said it is important for heritage to move beyond infrastructure. He said: "There are a lot more layers to build in constructing narratives about a place across time."

Mr Khir, a director at an investment management firm, is one of three new office-bearers who are part of the society's latest executive committee, which was elected in September for a two-year term. The others are honorary treasurer Siva S. Krishnasamy, who is a lawyer, and honorary secretary Alex Tan, who is a legal officer and trustee of the settlement of Dr Lim Boon Keng.

SHS is also hoping to grow its pool of members. Dr Chua said: "Joining the society is a way to take action to support a sense of place and local identity. We're an independent, alternative voice on heritage issues, speaking up on behalf of all concerned Singaporeans."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline Pre-war sites off Shenton Way under scrutiny. Subscribe