Gotong Royong and Other Anachronisms

Gotong Royong is a great kampung concept, where everybody helps each other out, knowing that good will and favours are remembered and returned. It is the storytelling of the good old days when things were simpler and even better sometimes.

However, Singapore has grown into a cosmopolitan city and things are never simple now, if anything it gets more complicated. HDB used to be simple housing for citizens. Now it is overpriced, even PRs can buy it, and owners can have both a HDB flat as a rental cash cow and a private property to stay in, or the other way around. The HDB as simple public housing is an anachronism.

Same story of the good old days of CPF. It used to be meant for retirement planning and then, payment for a HDB flat and heartland home to be rooted to  Singapore. Since then, CPF has lost its original purpose also.

At another level, that is also the story of the PAP as the party is losing quickly its relevance and appeal. It used to be simply for the people, the rakyat. Not so now. While the PAP is introducing nostalgia as a subliminal political gimmick e.g. the good old days of the PAP, the irony is that we understand those days are over, from gotong royong to simple HDB flats to a passionate and popular PAP. The good old days are gone and one cannot dwell in the past. Gotong royong is sadly an anachronism, just like the PAP is politically.


PM Lee says Singapore needs “gotong royong” spirit to do well

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said the strong community spirit present in kampongs should still be maintained today for Singapore to do well.

Mr Lee made these comments at a book launch, specially held for former residents of Kampong Radin Mas.

Kampong Radin Mas is believed to be among the oldest villages in Singapore.

While it was the birth place to many Malay-Muslim institutions, Mr Lee said it also produced leaders who made important contributions in politics, as well as in arts and culture.

He asked: “How did Radin Mas produce so many talented people? Some people said it’s because of the ‘air pancur’ – the spring water, which flowed from Mount Faber to the kampong. Others said maybe it was the ice ball kacang, or the kuti kuti and the kana. All the sights and sounds and colours and activities of the old kampong.

“But everybody agrees that the ‘gotong royong’ spirit had a lot to do with it, where people help one another, where everybody knew everyone else and each spurred the other to go on and do their best.

“Even today, when we are in HDB flats – much bigger towns, not a few hundred people, but hundred thousand people perhaps – it’s still necessary for us to maintain that strong community spirit for us to do well.”

The book “A Village Remembered: Kampong Radin Mas 1800s To 1973” documents life in Radin Mas village before it was demolished in 1973 to make way for a satellite town.

The book recounts the origins of the village, famous landmarks in Radin Mas and even has some ghost stories. It also gives some examples of how the community worked together.

Former Minister of Social Affairs Othman Wok said: “I remember this old man. He used to come to sell things in the kampong and one day after the rain, he slipped and fell down. All his things went all over the place. So the people laughed. They thought it was very funny. But not my mother – she came down and helped the hawker to take all his things, wash everything, and he was very grateful.”

The government said one way the community spirit can be re-invented today is through common amenities.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, said: “I think this is something for us to think about as we go forward, as we build the new Singapore.

“How do we build communities is an important point as we bring people together. I suppose HDB, our land agencies, would have to think about it very carefully. It is nice to build nice buildings, but I think it is also the facilities which are important, where people can come and congregate.”

The book is based on historical documents and interviews with former and current residents.


One Response

  1. Great observation. But why are these bigwigs resorting to such anachronisms? It has a certain psycholgical pull to it. Human nature is such that it has a romantic attachment to the mystical past. The Rousseauesque savage; Albion for the Brits;even Thomas Jefferson dreamed of Hengist and Horsa the mystical Saxon chiefs and wanted to place their images on the Great Seal of the US. My guess is that the PM is really worried about the desperate state of the nation for most citizens. Let us hope that he does not do what Mark Twain said he did: And that is to remember (when he was young) everything that happened and remember(now) everything, whether it happened ot not.

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