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Sago Lane, a one-way road, connects South Bridge Road to Banda Street. The street got its name from the many sago factories that used to be there in the 1840s. A part of Chinatown, Sago Lane was also known for the Chinese "death houses".
Sago Lane is a short stretch of road running parallel to Sago Street. Located next to Sago Street, much of Sago Lane's history is similar to that of Sago Street. From being a prosperous sago flour manufacturing centre in the mid-19th century, it was reduced to a prostitution area in the early 20th century. The most defining feature of Sago Lane, however, was its Chinese death houses.
People believed to be living the last days of their lives would be left at death houses to die, and among them were destitutes. Typically, a death house consisted of a living space on the first level and a funeral parlour below. There is a belief among the Chinese that a one could bring one's belongings to the next world when one dies. Therefore fake paper money and paper models of various things, like a house or a car, are burnt during funerals to effect that transition. The whole of Sago Lane had shops that sold paraphernalia used in funerals, like paper models, clothes, flowers, appliances and other things that would be dear to the deceased. Currently, shops selling such items are located in the nearby Banda Street. As Chinese funerals were extended affairs that continued through days and nights, many foods stalls were found on Sago Lane and Banda Street, catering to night visitors and mourners. With the banning of death houses in 1961, this era came to an end.
The construction of Kreta Ayer Complex, also called Chinatown Complex, in the early 1970s resulted in the removal of part of Sago Lane. In 1975, old shophouses on one side of the street were demolished and Housing Board blocks were built there. Currently, Sago Lane with its few old shophouses, enjoys STB's efforts to revive Chinatown once popular with food stalls and quaint trades.
(1) In Hokkien Ho-ban-ni au koi and in Cantonese, Ho-man-nin hau-pin kai, both of which mean "the street behind Ho-man-nin". Ho-man-nin was the chop or seal of a popular singing hall or brothel on Sago Street.
(2) In Cantonese Sayyun Kai, meaning "street of the dead", a reference to the dramatic death houses on this street.
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
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The information in this article is valid as at 2003 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Ethnic Communities>>Customs and Traditions
Funeral rites and ceremonies--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
People and communities>>Customs>>Death customs