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Old picture of a moored tongkang
The steel truss of Alkaff Bridge, Singapore, is shaped roughly like the hull of a tongkang.
Twakow loading lubricant oil in Singapore

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


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[edit]

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 the Indonesian archipelago berthed at this jetty. The firewood trade was primarily a Teochew enterprise.

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.

Another boat used on 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[edit]


  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[edit]