Monday, August 30, 2010

Nomad in Arab street

Walking through the hot Singapore night, a Nomad suddenly hears the call of the Mosque. Around me I hear Arab and Malay conversation. I find myself in the Arab street neighbourhood.

Arab street and surroundings were part of the overall city plan made by Raffles who wanted a synoptic town by concentrating each ethnic group in particular areas. The Arab traders however arrived in Singapore long before the arrival of Raffles. Often they had ventured via India and Indonesia, namely Palembang. These men settled and created small Arab communities by intermarrying with Malay women. They adopted the Malay language and some customs, while in turn these pious tradesmen spread the word of Mohamed. Up to this day Malay muslims are fascinated with these men from the holy land.

The forefathers of the Singapore Arabs descend from the poor area of Hadhramaut in Yemen and had usually lived in Indonesia before as well. Arab street, together with Haji lane and Sutltan street also became known as 'Kampong Jawa', when Javanese muslims started trading here and use it as a gateway for the Haji pilgrimage. Today this neighbourhood has become an interesting mix of Arab shops and trendy eateries and Shisha houses. Especially the young and hip Malay crowd loves to go there after (or without) visiting the Mosque. It is also popular with backpackers and fellow nomads from around the world.

These Arab nomads however have never broken ties with their homeland in Yemen one tells me. As Hadhramaut is still a fledgling area in Yemen over the many generations they have always send money back home and stayed in touch with their Yemen families. Nomads that fade out borders without burning bridges.

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