Mary's View of S'pore - Vol 6, More History

Lesson #3 The Bugis

"The Bugis are coming! The Bugis are coming!" This cry was greeted with great excitement in Singapore in the 1830's. The Bugis were sea traders/pirates/slave traders depending on who you talk to. They came from the Celebes Island (Salawasi, Indonesia - today). They would come during July-Nov. when it was not monsoon season.

They would come in flotillas of 200 boats bearing 5000 tons of goods and bringing 5000 men. These men were tall, fierce, quick-tempered, daring, noisy and colorful. They were not allowed to bring any of their weapons ashore because of the danger of brawls between them and the Chinese middlemen. They did indeed liven life in S'pore during their stay.

They would bring such goods as: coffee, tortoise shells, gold dust, spices, sarongs, and exotic birds to trade. If one wanted an untrained bird it only cost about $6-8. The price of a trained one, however, would have to be negotiated When they left they took with them opium, iron, piece goods, and gold thread. They would trade directly from their boats or just "pull up" to the shore and set up shop.

The Bugis were actually the largest ethnic group in S'pore in the 1820's. A group of 500 of them fled political unrest from the Celebes. Raffles set aside a specific part of the island for them (as he did for all the ethnic groups). There is a MRT stop called Bugis Junction to commemorate this area.. They were eventually assimilated into other S'pore communities. A Bugis princess married one of the early Arab settlers and there is a mosque built in her honor which is still standing on Beach Rd.

The Bugis trading eventually died out because of the lifting of trade restrictions in the Dutch Indies and because of the advent of western sailing ships and steamers to the area.

Perhaps the phrase parents use to scare their children "You better be good or the boogeyman will get you" comes from these colorful people.

Lesson #4 Gambier Plantations

During the 1840's, the English tried to encourage agriculture as a means of establishing a solid economic base in S'pore. It didn't work. Nothing much would grow here. Certainly not the spices which were in such high demand. After much experimentation, the only money crop was a strange combination of pepper plants and gambier plants. They had a strange symbiotic relationship. They literally grew entwined around each other. The gambier plant was a natural fertilizer for the pepper plants. They also could be harvested together.

As as added bonus the gambier also had some economic value. It was used for tanning and as a natural dye. However, it's greatest daily use was a component for betel nut chewing. The leaves were used to hold a combination of chopped betel nut, lime paste, and tobacco. This was chewed by the field workers. However, in addition to the mild narcotic effect which could interfere with the workers effectiveness it was very evident who was chewing and who wasn't because of the dye which would turn ones mouth red!

Eventually these plantations exhausted the soil in S'pore. The soil was depleted after 15 years. As the plantations moved through the center of the island they cleared the land of jungle. Gradually these plantations moved to Malaysia. During the heyday of gambier plantations they employed 3000 Chinese workers who earned $57/yr. The profit per plantation per year was $77.

One draw back to workers, owners and creditors were the tigers. Approximately one victim a day was lost to the tigers. This actually kept the creditors from visiting the plantations. The last tiger was shot and killed as it hid under the billiards table in the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel in 1839(?). It was actually a runaway from a circus that was in town.