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File:Alkaff Bridge, Nov 05.jpg
The steel truss of Alkaff Bridge, Singapore, is shaped roughly like the hull of a tongkang.

Tongkang or "Tong'kang"[1] was a type of light wooden boat used commonly in the early 19th century to carry goods along rivers in the Malay Archipelago.


The tongkang was an unmotorised open cargo boat, propelled by a variety of methods, including rowing, punt poles and sail.

The early tongkangs were about 20 ton burthen or less; they were propelled by about ten rowers and guided by a steersman. Long punt poles were used to propel them in shallower water. The size of the tongkang increased around 1860.[2]

The tongkang was one of the two traditional Malay ships using Junk Rig with local hulls instead of the Chinese Junk hull. Its hull design was more reminiscent of the dhow type used in South Asia and Western Asia than to the common Chinese or Far-eastern type. Besides the Junk Rig, the ketch rig was also used on the tongkang.[3] The last tongkangs in Singapore were towed by a motorised launch.

Tongkangs in Singapore

There are references to the activity of these boats in Singapore, where a Chinese document, refers to the Southern bank around Read Bridge area, as cha chun tau (柴船头), meaning "jetty for boats carrying firewood". Small tongkangs carrying firewood from Indonesia berthed at this jetty. The firewood trade was primarily a Teochew enterprise.

Sungei Punggol (榜鵝河) in Singapore begins as a canal known as "Sungei Tongkang" in Serangoon New Town before reaching Yio Chu Kang Road. also in reference to those boats.

The steel truss of Alkaff Bridge (阿卡夫桥) is shaped like a tongkang in remembrance of this type of boat, so important to the economy of old Singapore. The bridge is 55 metres in length and weighs about 230 tonnes.

A tongkang in full sail appeared on the reverse of the 1990 and 1992 Singapore dollar 2 $ currency notes. Tongkang LRT Station was named after this boat of historical importance for Singapore.

Another boat used in the Singapore River along with the tongkang was the twakow. These traditional vessels began to disappear around the 1930s, following the introduction of motor-powered boats and contemporary-type lighters.[4]

See also


  1. Tong'kang
  2. Stephen Dobbs , Tongkang, twakow, and lightermen: a people's history of the Singapore River. Sojourn. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Singapore. Vol. 9. No. 2. 1994. pp. 269-76.
  3. H. Warington Smyth, Mast & Sail in Europe & Asia, Chapter 10
  4. Stephen Dobbs, The Singapore River, Appendix 1 - "Lighter craft of the Singapore River"

External links