About 3km away from Matilda House, through a long and dark stretch of road, is a jetty that connects to the site where the Sook Ching Massacre took place on February 28, 1942. Records state that 400 victims were killed and abandoned on the shoreline of Punggol Beach but some historians believe that the unrecorded numbers could be much higher. Even as recent as 1997, people could find skeletal remains from the mass killing on the beach or in the nearby forests.
The area of Punggol is one of the oldest known settlements in Singapore. It existed even before the founding of modern Singapore in 1819. That’s more than 200 years ago. Who knows what secrets are buried beneath the land especially since it’s common for people of that era to dabble in animism and shamanic practices. In the book, Malay Magic, author Walter William Skeat details the beliefs and folklore that was popular in Malay Peninsula during that time.
The area of Punggol is one of the oldest known settlements in Singapore. It existed even before the founding of modern Singapore in 1819.
The older generation who remembers Singapore during its kampong days still hold onto the memories and the superstitions that were passed on to them. These knowledge are not found online; and you can only listen to them through oral traditions. Sadly, many of these beliefs are slowly being forgotten, and it is easy to understand why such wisdom no longer seems relevant today when everywhere you look are high rise buildings and pristine parks. But just because our eyes cannot see what’s there doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. After all, things like Jinn and the souls of the restless dead are known to be able to anchor themselves in a place for hundreds of years.
An elderly woman I spoke to who claims to be a descendant of a family line of practicing shamans recalled the story that her grandmother had told her. Near the spot where Punggol Point is today, there was a very big tree that the kampong residents believe to be the home of an ancient Jinn. Back then this place was not even called Punggol yet. It was known as Tanjong Rangon. Lightning struck the tree one night and all that was left was its stump. People from other kampongs would come to this tree to give offerings. She suggested that was how Punggol got its name. Ponggol in malay means, “a tree stump”.
Raymond, 49 years old, recalls the stories that his father told him when he was a teenager. Raymond’s father used to drive the bus service 82, which was one of the only two buses plying the Punggol Jetty route. This was around the late 80s to the early 90s. It was well known amongst the drivers there that the place is unclean. In fact, the drivers pooled their money together to set up an altar near the drivers’ resting point to appease the wandering spirits so that they will not be harmed. There was a story of a new driver who did not believe in such superstitions and scoffed at Raymond’s father’s belief. He went to rest between his shift and when he woke up, he found himself in the forest and couldn’t get out. He kept walking around in circles and came back to the same red altar over and over. It was only after he lit the joss sticks and begged for forgiveness that he managed to see the rest stop.
Confession by Meng
Meng, a 55 years old property agent, enjoys fishing during his free time. He recalls a fishing experience that left him spooked till today.
“I remember this was the time I just finished national service. Bunch of friends and I were looking for jobs but haven’t been able to find any, so during the ba-long-long time (lull period), we would go fishing. Usually the jetty area would be quite crowded, so my buddies and I would go further down the left side to where it's more secluded.
It was late in the night, we don’t really know what time it was. The seafood restaurants around the areas were closed already so I think it was probably past midnight. One of our fishing rods caught something and started tugging. The small bell made the ding-ding noise and from the pull of the rod, it seemed like we caught a big one. The more we pulled, the harder the fish fought back.
Suddenly we saw something emerging from the water. It was quite dark. We had camping lanterns but it wasn’t enough to illuminate what we had caught. Also, it was quite weird, why would the fish float out of the water. This thing was black and rounded. It raised up of the water slowly. My first thought was that we got our line caught in a floating debris covered in seaweed.
But from the way it floated towards us, it seems to be somewhat alive. There’s a difference when something is moving at you and just randomly floating. This thing was moving towards us. When it got closer to us, it floated even higher and this time it was above the water level. That’s when I felt something was very wrong already. I told my friend to drop the rod and run.
It was quite weird, why would the fish float out of the water. This thing was black and rounded. It raised up of the water slowly.
No one seems to move. Everyone was confused. And that’s when we all heard it. A ear piercing scream. We all heard it same time and we ran. That voice was human sounding but at the same time it was nothing like I have ever heard from a human throat. We just left everything behind and made a dash for the main road. I took a glance backwards and I saw - I know this is going to sound crazy but I know what I saw - I saw a floating head. Just the head. No body. Flying around our fishing spot. Screeching.
We ended up at the small bus terminal area and quickly prayed to the altar there. Our hands were shivering and the fear was very real, but at least here there were more people and we felt safer. I have had strange occurrences during my army days and other fishing sites before but so far, those were just sounds and weird feelings. This was too real. It’s one thing to not be able to see them, but the sight of a flying head is not something I can try to rationalise and lie to myself that it’s an animal. I know what I saw. I can tell the difference between a head and a bird.
Because there was really no way to walk back out and our barang barang (equipment and belongings) were still there, we waited till day break before going back. We spoke to some of the regular anglers there and they told us that there’s a reason why no one goes away from the jetty even though there’s a possibility for a better catch there. Flying head sightings were common at that spot.
When we eventually went back to our fishing site in the morning, we found our items ransacked and the fishes that we caught all had their heads bitten off.
Punggol Point Park looks nothing like what it did before and the forested spot has been cleared out. I actually still go there to fish sometimes, mostly for old times sake. Many people don’t remember what Punggol Point was before but this memory will live with me forever.”
Confession Journal is a collection of stories and reviews submitted by the public.