Over 130 people live, work on Ubin: Study
ONE of the few Singaporeans who knows how to build and repair kampung houses and dig wells still resides on Pulau Ubin.
Ahmad Kassim is 80 years old and has lived on the island for 70 of them.
He can rattle off the various steps involved in what is usually a two-month process.
"You go into the forests to collect suitable wood, lay the foundation, build the frame... Eventually, you add the zinc roof," he said. "It takes gotong ro-yong (kampung spirit) to complete."
His expertise was uncovered and recorded by anthropologist Vivienne Wee and her team researchers as part of the first comprehensive study of Pulau Ubin's living heritage.
Dr Wee, the managing director of anthropology company Ethnographica, was commissioned by the National Heritage Board to map the island's social history.
Her year-long research recorded about 90 structures including kampungs and pondoks (huts) on the 10.2 sq km island, off the north-eastern coast of mainland Singapore.
It also identified other skills of islanders, including the cultivation of indigenous fruits, herbs and spices; fishing and crabbing by line hook and trap; as well as having knowledge of wildlife such as hornbills and wild boars.
The study further puts to rest the assumption that Pulau Ubin is a sleepy backwater island in decline.
Previous records found 38 official residents - down from 2,000 between the 1950s and early 1970s.
However, Dr Wee's research has found that there are more than 130 people who live and work on Pulau Ubin.
Younger Singaporeans are also integrated into the day-to-day affairs of the island. It gets about 300,000 day trippers annually. Dr Wee said they are tied to the island through informal apprenticeships, fitness and leisure or because of their family businesses.
For instance, financial consultant Emily Chia, 26, returns to the island thrice a week to help her father run the family's bicycle rental shop.
"I really love this place, the people and the way of life," she said.
The project also documents different aspects of Ubin's unique island heritage, including the social history of the island, religious practices and festive events such as the annual six-day-long Tua Pek Kong Festival which drew 5,000 people last year.
Dr Wee said the study is significant as it captures "a way of life that is rooted in our history".