Street names are not just geographical markers; they have greater significance. Aside from directing us to places, signs also relay a community’s history and tell stories of what the area was like long before we arrived.
It does not require much to guess that Little India is an Indian ethnic settlement. Little India was introduced as an Indian enclave in early Singapore after the other Indian settlements became too small to sustain a rising number of immigrants. In the early stages of Little India development, it became obvious that whoever controlled food businesses would benefit most.
There are numerous street names in Little India that reflect the significance of the cattle trade in Singapore’s history. These streets in the area once served as a holding place for cattle during their journey to market.
I.R. Belilios was a cattle trader from the 40s and he was responsible for giving his name to Lobley Road, which is now known as Belilios Road. Belilios recognized the importance of dairy products in a Hindu’s diet and realized cattle could be traded at Little India. This area was ideal for the cattle trade because it was fed by the Rochor River. Belilios Road is now home to the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple and a small housing estate but leads into other nearby areas surrounded by lush vegetation.
Desker Road is one of several roads named after the Eurasian Desker family, who owned and operated a substantial butchery and slaughterhouse in the area. It used to be, but now it’s mostly hardware and machinery shops. Desker Road is infamous because of its hidden beauty and the professions that continue to thrive here.
Buffalo Road is where members of the Hindu population in both Bengali and Tamil lived, and they would sell doors to the door at this location. At the busy intersection, there are many Indian restaurants, convenience stores, and flower-garland stalls. The building also faces the busy Tekka Centre, a wet market and retail centre that is attached to a food court.
Kerbau in Malay means cattle. Unlike other sections of Kerbau Road, like the Little India Arts Belt (known for its coffee shops, craft and jewellery shops), there is a high concentration of Halal restaurants. National Arts Council acquired some units in the row of shophouses at Kerbau Road, under the “Arts Housing Scheme” in 2001. Two of Singapore’s prominent Indian and Malay ethnic arts groups, Bhaskar’s Arts Academy and Sri Warisan Som Said, occupy some units at the building. This performance company, Wild Rice Ltd., also operates from here.
The Residence of Tan Teng Niah, a restored eight-room villa built by one of the early Chinese prominent businessmen in Little India, possesses a plethora of colours and adds colour to this area. Tan Teng Niah’s rubber smokehouse is a symbol of the businesses in Little India. The pineapple plantations produced by-products from the production of pineapple that went into cattle feed. Some of the goods for which bullock carts transported were sheets of rubber, gathered and prepared by smokehouses.
These research findings suggest that cattle trade enabled related economic activities to emerge. The heavy buffalo was used as a means for agricultural transportation, and the lighter bullock cart was primarily used for commercial purposes. Named after the cattle trading that used to occur in Little India, these streets would continue to be a legacy of the area’s past.