Just when did the kelong come to Singapore?

12 09 2017

I am reminded of the kelong from the numerous Facebook posts I have been seeing in the last half a day in which the word is used. What comes to mind is not what the word has more recently to describe – a rigged outcome, especially in referring to match-fixing in sports – but of the fishing traps constructed of wooden stakes that once decorated our shores.

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What the word tends to be used to describe these days.

There were kelongs aplenty in my childhood and apparently there were even more in the days of hardship that followed the war. This is seen in a postwar map showing locations of food production facilities that also included fishing traps, where a proliferation of such traps can be seen along Singapore’s long coastline.

While it may then have seemed that kelongs – characterised by the long rows of bakau timber stakes rising above the sea surface – must have been a feature of the coastal scenery since time immemorial, the kelong was a technological import that arrived not long after the British did. Spears had apparently been the standard fishing implement that was employed prior to the introduction of the much higher yield kelongs. Munshi Abdullah, in his memoirs Hikayat Abdullah, describes the introduction of the kelong, attributed to a man from Malacca named Haji Mata-mata:

A kelong off Singapore – once a common sight.

Some eight months after the settlement had started the fishing fleet came from Malacca to fish in Singapore waters.

Most commonly caught were dorabs for they were an easy prey, never having been fished with hand-lines before in the whole history of Singapore. The fishermen used to stand out 120 -180 yards from the shore. When the Singapore people saw the Malacca fishermen making much money by hook and line fishing they also began to fish with hook-and-line like the Malacca folk. Previously they had known no method of catching fish other than by spearing them. When the Singapore settlement was a year old there came a certain Malacca man named Haji Mata-mata. He constructed large fish-traps with rows of stakes called belat and kelong. Other people built jermal.

In the first kelong which was put up, off Teluk Ayer, they caught a small number of tenggiri fish; in fact such vast surfeit that the fish could not be eaten and had to be thrown away. Their roes were taken out, put in barrels containing salt, and sold as a regular commodity to ships. The people of Singapore were surprised to see the number of fish caught in this way. The place where they built kelong was at Teluk Ayer Point, near Tanjong Malang. It became well-known.

– Munshi Abdullah in Hikayat Abdullah as translated by A H Hill

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2 responses

12 09 2017
dawnofdivinerays

Reblogged this on Dawn of Divine Rays and commented:
Just when did the kelong come to Singapore?

18 09 2017
CLARENCE

Wasn’t NIBONG PALM stakes used instead of BAKAU stakes?

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