I am writing about the history of my family; which is the Angullia family. However, I will first give an overview of the setting which they existed in before providing a brief history of this family. Singapore was a migrant city, meaning many migrants came to Singapore and especially so to seek job opportunities. People came from places that are understood as modern day China, India, Middle East and India as well Indonesia and other parts of the world. My focus would be on a group of migrant family that came from Gujarat, India.
The Guajarati traders have been part of the Indian Ocean trade network for many centuries. Early records highlight the presence of Gujarati traders in Southeast Asia predated to the 10th century where Kalah (present day Klang), a thriving port in West Malaya. The Gujarati traders had traded through Asia, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and Africa by sea. Surat’s trade with Europe and Asia was the greatest of any city in the Mughal Empire and its economic influence may have equalled other world cities. Braudel referred to Surat as the “gateway to the Mogul Empire” and the “rendezvous of all India”. The connection of British with Surat strengthened in 1800, when the British assumed exclusive control of Surat under a Proclamation issued by the Governor of Bombay on 6 May 1800 to testify this transfer of power.
The nineteenth century was perhaps exceptional in the history of emigration from Gujarat due to several ‘push factors’. Overpopulation in Gujarat by this time was a serious concern. The new expanding economic advantage in the coastal cities of Gujarat attracted many inhabitants from rural India to come to the coast and this provided pressure on space and jobs in Gujarat. Specifically in 1837, there was a huge outflow of migrants from Surat to other parts of the world as it was devastated by fire and floods. Many Suratees moved to America in the pursuit of participating in the race to fulfil the American dream. Naturally, the British Empire offered the trade migrants a plethora of plausible destinations for migration. Being one of the colonial outpost, Singapore became a popular destination for many of them. Migration was greatly facilitated by the introduction of steamships in the Indian Ocean after the establishment of a regular service in India in 1834.
Singapore was under the administration of EIC between 1826-1867 and the common British colonial masters for both the Indian subcontinent and Singapore created a familiar base of administration which had propelled Indian migration into Singapore. Furthermore, Raffles free port policies “became an article of faith in the town” as it develops into an entrepot. East India Company massive naval force provided a safe and free passage for British ships. Large groups of Gujaratis took advantage of Singapore’s characteristic as a trading port and the safety offered by starting businesses in Singapore whilst maintaining and mobilizing communication links with their home country for manpower and logistic support. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were about twenty Gujarati firms in Singapore including Isabhai, Jumabhoy and Angullia firms among several others.
Angullia family in Singapore
The Angullia family was one such immigrant family. This family came from Surat in the province of Gujarat, 265 kilometres north of Bombay on the North-Western coast of India before their coming to Singapore in the early 19th century. This family traced their origin to Iraq before heading to India.
A genealogy of the Angullia family will be useful in showing the members of this family across the first four generations. The indication of which generations these members are from only applies to the Angullia descendants and not their spouses.
Due to the flood occurring in Surat during 1837, Ebrahimjee Mohamed Salleh Angullia boarded the steamship as a passenger heading towards Singapore and opened up a shop in Kling Street. The Gujaratis who emigrated here conducted spice trades in Malacca Street, Market Street and Chulia Street which was then commonly referred as Kling Street. The concentration of Gujarati traders in these areas elucidates on the point that “ethnic firms tended to develop economic monopolies by clustering within enclaves”. This reflects the tendency for trade migrants to conglomerate with people of their own kind especially in the initial phases of migration. This ethnic clustering served to perpetuate a network facilitating a “sharing of business information and experience” among Gujarati traders within the vicinity. In a context where telephones were non-existent, having a large network of contacts and keeping regular contact with them were important ingredients facilitating the successes of their businesses.
The Gujaratis of the mid-19th century imported cotton, yarn and jute in large quantities which were sold directly to Chinese and European merchants in Singapore. They also engaged in the export of spices to other neighbouring countries. Records on the Angullia family before 1870 is sketchy and a detailed reconstruction of the family activities during this time remains difficult. However, given the inference on the generational gap, it was likely that Eusoofjee Ebrahimjee Angullia took over his father business around 1850s although the first primary records that directly referenced him was in 1867. Eusoofjee Angullia resumed business within this enclave of Indian traders and opened a godown in Malacca Street. He took on the role of a consignment agent as he traded between Bombay and Singapore. In the 1860s, the role of a consignment agent was to secure contracts over quality and quantity of goods on the behalf of independent companies. Since most of the European companies were unable to purchase goods on the open market in Southeast Asia due to a lack of linguistic capability or had cultural barriers when dealing with foreign traders, they engaged agents to purchase articles for them.
Sojourners to settlers (1837-1871).
Like most traders from India at the time, the first and second generation patriarchs came here as single men and returned to India for marriage after few years of working in Singapore. The pioneer Angullia migrant Ebrahimjee came to Singapore with the intention of sojourning. After his marriage, he frequented India to purchase his trading commodities and to visit his family before returning to Singapore for work throughout the 1840s and 1850s. Like his father, Eusoofjee also married a Surattee, named Hafsa Beebee who remained in Surat while he oscillated between India and Singapore as he continued his father’s trading business in Singapore.
The Angullia family begun showing signs of settling in Singapore from the third generation onwards. Mohamed Salleh Eusoof married two women. Marriage to ladies of their homeland were possibly a conception employed by trade migrants to resume their familial connection there. Furthermore, it was also for practical reasons such as the ability to import cheap family and kin labour from their villages of origin.
Charting the residential patterns of the Angullia family sheds light on the defining moment of their switch from sojourners to settlers. The first two generation of migrants, Ebrahimjee and his son Eusoofjee Angullia lived in the upper deck of their godown in the ethnic enclave on Kling Street and Malacca Street respectively. These traders would live in unique structures known as kittangis which were long buildings with no partitions. They were collectively inhabited by men hence making it unsuitable for them to bring their wives over. However, in line with the mass migration from India to Singapore after 1870, MSE Angullia brought one of his wife, Miriam Beebee from Surat to Singapore. In 1873, their first child was born and named Ahmed Mohamad Salleh. MSE Angullia’s act of bringing his wife to Singapore and eventually having a child here reflected a higher degree of stability and permanence. This elucidates on the point that trade migrants will usually take a few decades to adapt more comfortably into their host societies.
M.S.E Angullia’s motion of formally registering his company in the business directory was another way of charting this family’s transition from sojourners to settlers in the island city. While his father and grandfather were independent traders without having their company registered, M.S.E Angullia and Co was registered in the Singapore and Malayan Directory in 1871. The rest of this thesis will explore the business, philanthropic and public positions undertaken by the third and fourth generation of the Angullia family.
M.S.E Angullia and Co – 1871
This company was officially inaugurated by the third generation of the Angullia family and the abbreviation of the company name directly referred to its owner. Many Gujarati businesses during the colonial era were family businesses. MSE Angullia, took over his father business in 1871 by the virtue of being the first son. His younger brother, ME Angullia, was employed as a clerk in the firm upon its inauguration. A study of the Angullia business firm from its inception reveals that family members numerically dominated M.S.E Angullia and Co. The rationale of employing family members was to confine the profit and operational knowledge amongst family members. However due lacking manpower from within the family, they had to incorporate non-family individuals into their organizations. Any staff they employed had to be able to read and write as book-keeping was a crucial component in managing a business during colonial Singapore. While I have briefly described who the Angullia above are, the next part of this paper will show why the Angullia family history is an important piece of information.
The history of Singapore in the colonial period favours the powerful. Whilst much study has been focused on the colonial state and political history, the history of the locals, the community and the social history of colonial Singapore has been given less emphasis. This thesis details the story of the Angullia family to examine their contributions to the history of Singapore. Till date, their story has remained obscure yet central landmarks are named after them such as Angullia Park off Orchard Road and Angullia Mosque in Serangoon Road. Since colonial historiography very often marginalizes the voices from the society due to its focus on great men and as a result, the contributions of colonial subjects have been overlooked and their experiences unrecorded. The stories of the individuals and the particular get overwhelmed by the narratives of state and big transformations. Macrohistory should be studied alongside microhistory such as individual life narratives and family history. By turning our focus to the intersection between mainstream narratives of a country and microhistory, we acquire new insights into understanding broader socio-economic processes in history through the complementarity between macro and micro perspectives.
Upon knowing a little bit more about who the Angullia’s are, meanings can now be assigned to the story behind the tangible road sign along Orchard Road. The historical knowledge about a particular place would be relevant and important information to convert a mere tangible space into what a meaningful place. For some the street-sign in figure 2 indicates just a semiotic of a street, while for another it might be a street signalling the place of their residence, or workplace. For us, it’s our family’s history, and this history is not exclusive to only our family. Being right smack in the middle of Singapore city centre, this street would also possess different meaning for different people at any point of time. Additionally, the Angullia family has had interactions with various facets of the Singapore community which makes their history transcending that of the family itself. Members of the Angullia family has contributed to various trajectories of Singapore’s history through their monetary contributions or in kind.
In MSE Angullia’s will of 1898, 25% of his total wealth was to be sent to Mecca, another 25% to Medina, 10% to Baghdad and 10% to Surat as charity grants. The remainder of his wealth was to be allocated to Muslims students who excelled in their studies; to the Angullia family members and other charitable organizations in Singapore. His son, AMS Angullia continued the tradition of providing monetary support to causes that worked towards the improvement of the Muslim communities in Singapore. Specifically, he was a major financer for the journal entitled Real Islam. Founded in 1929, Real Islam was a Muslim religious journal published locally in English. The kinds of ideas propagated by Real Islam were reformist interpretations of Islam, specifically the idea that melded Islam with modernity. The journal sold at 20 cents per copy in 1929 had low profit margins; for its continued operations, the journal required public donations. Here was where AMS Angullia stepped-in by financing this journal to extend its survival; so concerned about disseminating the progressive idea that Islam was amenable to a modern world. This is just several examples out of a plethora of other contributions that were being made by the Angullia family which resonates with the larger collective group of Singaporeans and other groups overseas.
Additionally, another very famous site today placed in the middle of Serangoon Road is the famous Angullia mosque. The Angullia Mosque at Serangoon Road was built in 1890. In his will, MSE Angullia asserted that the Mosque “shall always remain and be a public place of worship for all Mohammedans”. At the time that it was built which was from the 1890s, Serangoon Road was already a centre where Indian migrants dwelled and conducted their businesses. This mosque were principally constructed for the use of these Indian Muslim migrants as the orientation which they subscribed were the Hanafi madzhab; a sect of Islam which a majority of Indians subscribed to. When M.S.E Angullia purchased the mosque, he also purchased several properties in the streets adjacent to the mosque. The rental of these properties were used to generate the sustenance of the mosque. By 1934, AMS Angullia constructed a hub in the commercial hub of Singapore, in the heart of Orchard Road. This mosque was being referred to as the mosque “with the prettiest architecture”. Their mosques in prime areas which bears their family name serves as concrete hallmarks of public images which elevates the public recognition of the Angullia family.
While the Angullia family were public donors and is a name familiar to many from the older generation in Singapore today, we as family members often hear more personal and internal stories about the family. These stories have been passed down from one generation to the other, and these include stories of their house in Orchard Road, family recipes, and how the traditionally Indian family incorporated cultural elements practiced by the Malays into their lives as seen by their choice of food, clothing, and language spoken at home.
Apart from these stories, many family members and several members from the public are also recipients of the Angullia Waqf Fund. These funds come in the form of educational or charity grants and substantial sums allocated to mitigate the plight of many less fortunate individuals and families in Singapore.
MSE and ASM Angullia philanthropic activities and places bearing their names have made this family known to many sects of their community at that time. However, these memories will just fade away should they not be documented. Nonetheless, this paper is an important contribution to the patchwork of Singapore’s history as ultimately it’s not just my history or my family history, but instead, it’s a part of our collective history, and hence, deserves to be celebrated like any other aspect of Singapore’s history.