We came
from Pulau

Having lived on the island of Semakau,
our family, along with many others, depended
on the life source that the sea brought about.


Pulau Semakau, as it stands today, is a landfill that is fundamental to Singapore’s waste management system.

However, this island means much more to us.

We were once the occupants of Pulau Semakau, the OGs of this beautiful island we once called home. In front of our attap house was a long wooden jetty. It was old, rigid, and not without the occasional splinters. It held our livelihoods. The jetty was where we docked the sampans that we fished on, and a platform we used to jump into the water.

We laughed, we ate, we even slept on the jetty that once stood firmly at the edge of the island.

We were the last to leave

More than 40 years ago, the former occupants of Pulau Semakau were asked to evacuate the island. We were the last to leave. Today, our families live in Singapore, some living nearer to the open waters, hoping to return to where we used to live.

As the occupants of Pulau Semakau, we refer to ourselves as the Orang Pulau or Orang Semakau. Like our family, some of the islanders were ‘settled’ Orang Laut communities who have ancestral connections to other maritime tribes from the Riau Islands and beyond. We once make up a small subset of Singapore’s rich Orang Laut community and the wider Nusantara. 

We fear that our way of life will be forgotten as our country progresses. Though the island is no longer what we knew it to be, we hope that its wondrous spirit lives within us through our memories and food.

Our love and joy,
our grandparents,
Rani & Ninah sailing
into the sunset.

The spirit of the sea lives on

After decades of living in mainland Singapore, we know that the spirit of the sea or ‘Jiwa Laut’ still lives on with us.

Thank you, Our Grandfather Story for capturing a peek of our life at the place we loved dearly, Pulau Semakau.

© 2020 Orang Laut

Special thanks to TodayOnline, Mothership, Zao Bao, Women’s Weekly and Island Nation for sharing our story. Subscribe to our blog.