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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Indian Gang Labourers

I returned from Galle, Sri Lanka last Saturday. As my vehicle passed by the Galle beach I saw about a dozen fishermen hauling together their fishing net in the sea. They reminded me of the Indian gang workers who were here before. When moving a heavy load, they pulled a rope tied to the load and yelled together 'ehloh ehlah, ehloh ehlah.... just like in a tug-of-war yell 'pull, pull, pull....'. I could not hear the fishermen's yell in an aircon vehicle. But, I am sure they did utter somethings to get a united strength while pulling the rope.

According to a book by PWD The Indian labourers were in Singapore as early as 1825. They were convicts in India but were brought here by the British to work in the Public Works Department (PWD) as menial workers. They built our roads, bridges, jetties, canals and sea walls. They also erected public buildings such as St Andrew's Cathedral and helped put up the Horseburgh Lighthouse. The most dangerous job was clearing the jungle in the interior to build roads. While doing so they faced the danger of attack by wild animals such as tigers, wild boars, snakes, dogs and others.

Furthermore, they made their own bricks, lime and cement from coral and quarry stones from Pulau Ubin. They fell trees for woodworks and prepared all types of ironworks. The convicts establishment was broken up in 1872. Many stayed in Singapore and continued to work with the PWD as skilled artisans.

In the 50s to 70s I remembered seeing them doing roadworks, digging trenches to construct roadside drains and also laying water pipes and laying electrical cables in the hot sun. They helped in the building and development of Singapore for more than 150 years. Singapore does not have a monument to remember them. A legacy that has been lost in history.

Photo credit to PWD - Roadworks at Beach Road in 1910

Photo credit to PWD - roadworks

Photo credit to PWD - roadworks

Photo credit to PWD - bull roller

Photo credit to PWD - digging trenches

Photo credit to PWD - laying of electrical cables


yg said...

philip, the tradition continues. i still see indian workers - they may be bangla-deshi - doing most of the road works.

PChew said...

Samsui women has a Memorial Statue in Chinatown and a sculpture in front of URA Centre to remember their contribution to Singapore. How do Singaporeans today give recognition to those Indian labourers who built our infrastructure etc?

Lam Chun See said...

Yes I remember seeing such Indian labourers working in my kampong. We used to laugh at them and imitate their call. Ee-ah-loh ar Sanloh. We were really naughty.

peter said...

'Ehloh ehlah, ehloh ehlah." Ya I heard it too but with telecom cables when they pullit from those huge wooden rollers (????). As a kid I got excited when ever they came around my place. There's one photo in PICAS of a little school kid standing on top of a 56" water pipe in Chestnut Avenue - that was me@

How about "Talembu" for those selling fertilizers?