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or go on a self-guided walking tour to find out more about the Telok Ayer of the 1800s, a diverse neighbourhood with many communities of different ethnicities and religious backgrounds living in close proximity to one another. Learn how these interactions can result in both harmony and tensions.
A Brief History of Telok Ayer
Telok Ayer Street located just outside the HDG and beside the Amoy Street Food Centre, is home to several historically significant sites and National Monuments.
Telok Ayer is “water bay” in Malay and as the name suggests, used to face the sea (now Shenton Way) and served as a landing site for early migrants in 1800s. It was designated a Chinese district in 1822 by the founder of colonial Singapore, Stamford Raffles and was prominent as a landing site for migrants from South China and South India. Grateful for their safe journeys, many would set up altars and shrines to thank their respective gods.
Indian Muslims from the Coromandel Coast in south India, often referred to as Chulias that had survived the perilous journey, built the Al-Abrar Mosque and the Nagore Dargah Shrine (now Indian Muslim Heritage Centre) at 192 and 140 Telok Ayer Street respectively.
The Hokkiens from Fujian, China, set up a simple shrine in 1819, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea, Ma-Zu-Po to give thanks for their safe journey from Southern China. The Thian Hock Keng Temple eventually grew out of this shrine in 1842 and now houses shrines to several Chinese deities.
Next to the Thian Hock Keng Temple is the Taoist Mission or the Singapore Yu Huang Gong, situated in a 180 year old building previously owned by a self help organisation started by Peranakan Hokkiens from Singapore and Malacca. It is often mistaken as part of the larger Thian Hock Keng Temple.
The Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church build in 1925 could trace its history to a shophouse (no longer in existence) at Upper Nanking Street in 1889. Its pioneering missionary Dr Benjamin West preached in Malay which was then translated into Hokkien. Today it holds services in Mandarin, Hokkien, English and Bahasa Indonesia.
The Al-Abrar Mosque located at 192 Telok Ayer Street was established in 1827 for the Tamil Muslim Chulias from south India. The present building was built between 1850 and 1855 and it was also also known as Masjid Chulia or Chulia Mosque
One of the oldest Hokkien temples in Singapore, the Thian Hock Keng Temple was a humble joss house in 1821-22. It was erected in honour of Ma Zu Po, the Protector of Sojourners, and Chinese immigrants would go there to offer thanks for a safe sea passage from China . Between 1839 to 1842, the joss house was rebuilt as Thian Hock Keng Temple by philanthropist Tan Tock Seng.
Next to but distinct from the Thian Hock Keng Temple is the revamped Taoist Mission or the Yu Huang Gong (Temple of the Heavenly Jade Emperor), It is housed in the 180 year old Keng Teck Way Association building set up by Hokkien Peranakan merchants from Singapore and Malacca.
The Nagore Dargah (Indian Muslim Heritage Centre), previously named as the Nagore Dargah Shrine was built between 1828 -1830 and was originally known as the Shahul Hamid Durgha.
The places of worship preceded the partitioning of the land in Telok Ayer and construction of the shophouses in between, which used to be open ground.
The first Anglo-Chinese School in Singapore, which used to be located at shophouse number 70, was started by Methodist missionaries with just 13 pupils along Amoy Street on 1 March 1886. Now called ACS House, this place has been classified as a historic site since the late 1990s.
ACS although started by Methodist missionaries and Peranakan Chinese, accepted multi racial students from different faiths.
Murals drawn by local artist Yip Yew Chong, at the back wall of Thian Hock Keng temple along Amoy Street