Saturday, May 1, 2010

red and green eyes twakows

on friday morning, we went to trace a section of the singapore river. we started from new bridge road and walked westwards until we came to the former jiak kim warehouses, now a favourite haunt of youngsters, going by the name zouk. seeing how nondescript the place looked in the day, i wonder how it could manage to draw such crowds, especially on wednesdays - mambo nights.

we came across a number of bridges spanning the river, some of them known to us, while some we were getting to know for the first time. one of the first bridges was ord bridge. then, there were clemenceau bridge, robertson bridge, pulau saigon bridge and the most colourful of all, alkaff bridge. i remember a pulau saigon circus from the past but not the bridge.

the bumboat, lighter or twakow which was passing under the bridge brought us back to the days when this vessel was used to transport goods from the inner or outer roads to the quay. today, these boats have been refitted to take tourists on a river cruise. some of these boats appear to be air-conditioned.

back home, i was reading this informative brochure published by the national heritage board, when i came across something interesting about the lighters that used to ply the singapore river.

as the singapore river was too shallow for ships to sail through, small boats known as lighters were used to fery goods between the ships docked at the harbour and the quay. the lighter trade was initially dominated by the chuliahs (indian muslims) and their large wooden crafts known as tongkangs for the larger part of the 19th century. chinese boatmen, mostly teochew and hokkien, started displacing the chuliahs at the beginning of the 20th century with their smaller and faster boats known as twakows. despite concerns over the seaworthiness of the lighter twakows, the chinese lightermen and their twakows became a common sight on the river until the last lighter was relocated in 1983 because of the river clean-up project. the twakows, with its distinctive 'eyes' painted at the bow (red for teochew-owned twakows and green for hokkien-owned twakows) can still be found on the river today performing a different role of ferrying passengers instead of cargo.

(from tides of change, the singapore river trail, published by s'pore heritage board)

if you look at the bows of the boats, it is not the eyes that were painted a different colour. in fact, the eyes in both the teochew and hokkien boats are/were black; it is the background that has the distinguishing colour - red for teochew and green for hokkien. looking at both past and present photos, it will appear that the number of hokkien boat owners outnumber the teochew.


peter said...

please explain why red = Hokkien and green = teochew?

There were 2 bridges to cross from Clemenceau Avenue to the Chin Swee Road side. one briodge from Clemenceau to Pulau Saigon (a small islet) and then a second bridge from the islet to Chin Swee Road side. Both bridges replaced by this modern bridge and I think there was land reclamation here so islet gone. The Pulau Saigon was a rusty-looking bridge.

yg said...

peter, you are trying to confuse me with the colours; it is red for teochew and green for hokkien. according to the information in the booklet, there were two footbridges. reclamation merged the island (pulau saigon) with the south bank of the river, and the steel bridge was demolished to make way for the cte.

peter said...

soli yg, i meant to ask what is the significance of the colours + why assign the dialectical groups with those colours?

yg said...

peter, i think those days kinship among the dialect groups was quite strong; it was one way of identifying themselves. the hokkien's twakows were generally more colourful than the teochew's.

peter said...

yeah but why red and green only? why not yellow, purple, etc?