The Malay Heritage Foundation

Heritage Markers and Walking Tours

Project Overview

Cerita-Cerita Kampong Gelam (Stories of Kampong Gelam) comprises 14 new heritage markers that have been strategically placed in and around the precinct of Kampong Gelam. To value-add to the place making efforts of the precinct, each marker tells a unique story and social memories associated with the place.  Most of these stories are ‘untold stories’ or not usually found in any of the history books, but are unique to Kampong Gelam. They have been gathered through intensive research, oral interviews, talks with former residents, and also current visitors to the area.

These heritage markers help to ‘bring to life’ the heritage and legacy of the precinct, up close and personal to the visitors.  It also serves as a unifying identity that provides a sense of welcome to the place. Through the stories, quotes featured in the markers, visitors to the precinct will be made more aware of the significance of this historic district and its role in Singapore’s development as a global maritime hub.  For instance, many, including locals, may not be aware that Kampong Gelam was one of the earliest port towns which had pre-existed even before the arrival of Raffles in Singapore.  As a port town, it has attracted people from other parts of the Malay world, as well as China, India, Middle East and the other European powers (Portuguese, Dutch) to trade and set up their business here.   

Through the stories featured in each heritage marker, we hope to:

  • Facilitate greater awareness and understanding of Singapore’s rich and diverse multicultural heritage to support national integration and community bonding efforts at the national level (i.e cohesive society);
  • Expose and educate locals, PRs, new citizens, expatriates and tourists on the integration of the different ethnicities of Kampong Gelam residents in social and commercial activities that contributed to the progressive Singapore that we see today and;
  • Promote and safeguard the stories and social history of Kampong Gelam precinct to inspire present and future generations of Singaporeans.

Together with the heritage markers installed by the National Heritage Board (NHB) in 2012, these heritage markers will present a more comprehensive narrative on the legacy of this historic precinct.

Content and Stories Featured in the Markers

The final content and stories featured in the markers are the result of an extensive community engagement process which spanned over almost two (2) years.   It started in July 2017 where members of the public were invited to pen their stories and memories associated with Kampong Gelam on storyboards. More than 300 stories were collected through this engagement process.  These were then collated and then grouped according to some broad themes, and then matched with the relevant historical findings from the research.  Relevant stories and the historical information were then shortlisted and tested out during walking conversations to find out, which design idea would best help to ‘brand’ and represent Kampong Gelam and which stories would resonate better with potential visitors participating in a guided tour of the heritage trail.  Several workshops were also conducted to further curate and shortlist the design concepts and the stories to be featured.  After more than 18 months, and intensive consultation with URA with regards to the direction for design of signages and markers to identity precinct, the project team finally decided on the final design aesthetics for the marker.

Design Rationale for the Heritage Markers

The heritage marker is made from metal that has been given a bronze colour.  This is to pay tribute to the many foundries, blacksmith shops and coppersmith shops that used to be found in Kampong Gelam. These businesses, owned by Javanese, Hokkiens and the Teochew craftsmen, were located along Sultan Gate, Pahang Street and lower half of Bussorah Street (which used to be known as Kampong Tembaga or Copper Village).

The text, archival photos and maps will be held within a framed border at the top and bottom of the marker.  The border design is formed by juxtapositioning the architectural elements and features of buildings in Kampong Gelam – such as the geometric design of the minaret of Sultan Mosque and the air ventilation vents of the shophouses found within the precinct.  The over 600 shophouses in Kampong Gelam used to be owned by merchants and traders from many nationalities.  As a result, Kampong Gelam had been home to many communities from the Malay Archipelago, India, Middle East, China and even Europe. Placing these elements side by side, creates a synergy that complements each other, and reflects the diverse communities that has pre-existed in Kampong Gelam living in harmony as a cohesive society for many generations.

All the design elements are given a golden outline to accentuate some of the aesthetics and features to pay tribute to the fact that the area was once part of a royal citadel or kota raja. The motif at the top centre of the marker has also been uniquely designed to be sensitive to the nuances of Malay art, customs and tradition. It is made of four (4) elements – the butterfly, the ‘itik sekawan’ motif, the colours and the typeface.

The butterfly (rama-rama)

The initials of Kampong Gelam; letters K and G; was stylised to resemble the butterfly wings. The butterfly becomes the icon or the messenger of the stories and plays an important role in bringing the visual identity together.

In Malay culture it is believed that when a butterfly flies into someone’s house, it is a sign that there will be guests / friends / relatives from far visiting with good news in the near future.  Incorporating this into the logo design and branding connotes a metaphorical welcome to visitors from all over the world to Kampong Gelam.

The butterfly also symbolises prosperity, harmony and ever-evolving which suits Kampong Gelam area perfectly as it is a place where people from different parts of the world come and settle down. Through the years, the diverse communities and their businesses helped to make Kampong Gelam as one of the prominent commercial sites of its time.  Today, they have left their mark in different ways, from the buildings in the area and long-time businesses to vernacular place names. Even in the fast-changing environment, Kampong Gelam managed to retain its charm and vibrancy that constantly attracts visitors from around the world like how it used to be due to the spirit of the people that make up the community.  

The ‘Itik Sekawan’ motif

The motif is widely used in traditional Malay crafts such as weaving, wood carving, metal works etc. It depicts the behaviour of the duck that always walk together in line. This quality became a lesson for the people about the meaning of life where everybody walk together hand in hand in harmony. By incorporating the motif into the identity, it strongly resonates about the diverse groups of people who used to live at Kampong Gelam in a peaceful manner. This way of life continues until today with the various businesses thriving alongside each other as the living testament.


A duo-tone colour combination was chosen to retain the simplicity. Copper / bronze is used as the primary colour as copper / bronze material was traditionally used in everyday household items in a Malay house as well as to signify the many blacksmiths that once called Sultan Gate home. It is also considered a colour of the Royalty / Sultan, who once resided at the palace that is now known as Malay Heritage Centre.


Referencing the Jawi typography, the shape of the letters K and G was stylised to emulate the curvy forms of ‘kaf ’ and ‘gaf ’. The dot of the ‘gaf ’ was also incorporated into the brandmark to give a finishing touch to the identity.  This approach also pays tribute to the legacy of Kampong Gelam that used to be the printing and publishing hub, as well as the creative and intellectual heart for the Malay world.


This project was made possible through the support from the Heritage Project Grant (NHB) as well as from various partners and stakeholders. Our greatest appreciation goes to;

AlAttas Group
Breezeway Development
Estate of Haji Yusoff Mohamed Noor
Faizah Jamal
Former residents of Kampong Kaji (Bussorah Street)
Friends of the Museum
Gerry Ball
Dr Imran Tajudeen
Kampong Gelam Alliance Task Force
Khir Johari
Lure Heaven
Mallal & Namazie
Hjh Maimunah Restaurant
Muhammad Zaki Maarof
One Kampong Gelam
Santa United International Holdings
Singapore Tourism Board
Singapore Land Authority
The Sultan
Urban Redevelopment Authority
Warees Investment Pte Ltd
Zubir Abdullah

Kampong Gelam Walking Tours

You can do your own self-guided tour and discover these markers in your own time. Or you can choose to experience the rich history and culture of this historic precinct through a guided tour. Our experienced docents will guide you to explore these trails and experience these stories behind the streets, shophouses and landmarks of Kampong Gelam.

This is part of the bi-monthly guided tours conducted by volunteer docents from the Friends of the Museum, in collaboration with MHF. Each walking tour lasts about 90 minutes. Limited places are available and terms and conditions will apply.

Admission is Free. Tours are reserved on a first come first served basis. Register for the Kampong Gelam Heritage Walking Tour here.

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