Growing Up In Kampong Tampines: A Photo Essay of Mr Samat Sulaiman

Through a personal account of Mr Samat Sulaiman, former resident of Kampong Dalam (currently Pasir Ris Drive 3 and 8) in Kampong Tampines, this photo-essay takes a peek at his life growing up in a simple attap hut, how this fisherman family survived on their catch and answers what kampong spirit means to the villagers of Kampong Tampines.


My name is Samat Sulaiman, a fourth-generation member of a family of fishermen. My family lived in the old Kampong Tampines that was once part of Pasir Ris.


At the age of 17, I took an interest in photography and started taking photos of my surroundings with an old AGFA camera (an analogue camera). During my kampong (“village” in Malay) days, having a camera was a luxury. This camera was a gift from my brother-in-law, Mr Mohamad Bin Ali, for passing my motorcycle licence test. He knew that I had a special interest in photography since I was young. It soon became a priceless possession that I took around with me everywhere. 


With my camera, I captured many cherished moments and memories of my second, third and fourth generations family members, and of the simple life in our kampong, Kampong Tampines. 


All five generations of my family lived in Kampong Tampines. Back then, we did not have proper road signs like today and the villagers used numbered markers known as ‘mile markers’ which were placed along road sides to find our way around.


Following the 10 milestone of Tampines Road into the kampong, you will find yourself in Kampong Luar (“outside” in Malay) currently along Elias Road. 10½ milestone from Kampong Luar you will reach Kampong Dalam (“inside” in Malay) where I used to live along Pasir Ris Dr 3 and Pasir Ris Dr 8 today. During the kampong days, both Kampong Luar and Kampong Dalam did not have proper roads like today. We had to walk through bushy sandy track, lalang (“weeds” in Malay), Tempinis Trees (“ironwood trees” in Malay), and Cashew Nut trees before finally reaching the main road. Sometimes we got hungry and stopped to pick the wild fruits of Pokok Kemunting (“Ceylon hill gooseberry in Malay) to munch on our way.


My house was located at Kampong Dalam within Kampong Tampines. As there was no electricity in our kampong, we used firewood to cook our meals. This was eventually replaced with portable kerosene stoves. Charcoal iron, which was commonly used in most homes in the kampong was used to iron clothes. Pieces of smouldering charcoals were then added into the iron. Water for drinking and other daily necessities had to be drawn from a common well using a rope and bucket. It was only in the early 1960s that the government supplied villages with electricity and standpipes. 


Living in the kampong, my family of fishermen made a living from our catches. I learned to fish from my father and my uncles when I was a young boy. We often rowed out to Pasir Ris Beach in our sampan (“small boat” in Malay) to catch fishes, shrimps, mussels and clams along the riverbank of Sungei Api-Api. The fishes we caught for the day were for our daily consumption and the rest were sold at the market. My mum also made home-made belacan, a type of fermented fish paste, from the freshly caught shrimps. 

Times were hard and resources were limited during the kampong days. The villagers depended on one another for neighbourly help – we called it the communal, kampong spirit - also known as gotong royong. Most villagers from the same kampong were related to one another and knew each other well. When it was Hari Raya Puasa, the whole village would celebrate by lighting up lampu pelita buluh (“Raya oil lamp” in Malay) in our homes and visit each other’s house with kuehs (“bite-sized cake” in Malay), ketupat (“diamond-shaped rice cake” in Malay), rendang (“meat stew” in Malay), and other delicious food!

As the years went by, Pasir Ris evolved over time. In 1987, Kampong Tampines moved out to make way for Pasir Ris New Town. My family was the last family to move out of the kampong that we shared many memories in. Living in a kampong for 43 years of my life was the most memorable life experience that I have encountered. The feeling of serenity and tranquillity will never die as long as I live. 

Till today, whenever I remember and look back at my old photos in my kampong, it always brings me tears and euphoria. I can say that I left my heart at Kampong Dalam, my dear kampong in Kampong Tampines.

About Mr Samat Sulaiman

Samat Sulaiman, aged 76, grew up in Kampong Tampines in the 1940s. He is an avid photographer who loves to capture photographs and share his memories of the past and present times.

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