Dhoraisingham S Samuel

Think you know the story behind Jalan Kayu? Everyone knows it’s named after the forest that used to stand there, as ‘Kayu’ is the Malay word for wood. But is this really right?

Well you just might be surprised at this alternative story which is rarely known. According to famed historian Mr Dhoraisingam Samuel, it is actually named after RAF engineer RW Wood who worked on the Seletar airbase located nearby.

Such little nuggets of information came aplenty in the course of talking to Mr Samuel. Chatting with him was fascinating and astounding given his memory and ability to recall minute details even at his age. Citing a particular example of his final O level History paper, Mr Samuel was able to recall the specific date, 8th Dec 1941 in which he had chosen to discuss Singapore, “The Impregnable Fortress of the East” for the topic of “The History of the British Empire”. This might be in some small part due to the unfortunate coincidence whereby it was also the day Japan bombed Singapore for the first time, after which, the “Impregnable Fortress” fell in just 7 days.

Walking us back through the years of history he fondly recalls where each ethnicity had settled in the early days and the particular landmarks of the time.

“The impregnable fortress of the east”

Having always been interested in history, Mr Samuel was initially only exposed to books with a predominantly British slant. This viewpoint was changed during the Japanese Occupation when books directly from India were available and provided an alternative point of view he had not encountered before. Discussing the new perspectives with his father also served to further boost his interest and strengthened his resolve to find out as much as he could.


Intending to pursue history in university, Mr Samuel found that unfortunately in line with the goals for that era, the government saw greater value in encouraging students to pursue degrees in economics, math and science backgrounds. Despite that, he was determined to pursue his passion. He took matters into his own hands and finally obtained a MA in History.

Having firmly made history a part of his life, Mr Samuel has since gone on to write 9 books and countless articles on various topics ranging from Singapore’s heritage, chronicling the lives of several pioneers, including his father, as well as raising the public profile of Peranakan Indians otherwise known as the Chitty Melaka. The inspiration for his books came when Mr Samuel retired and joined the History Association of Singapore as its president, organizing tours, attended mostly by foreigners and history classes, as well as actively leading some tours himself. Through the course of these tours, he happened to come across a boy who surprisingly planted that initial seed which led Mr Samuel on this literary path.


“At that period there was no support for history.”

Mr Samuel’s deep knowledge of Singapore history and good grasp of the Tamil Language was duly recognised when he was invited to contribute small byte-size history segments on the Tamil radio station OLI 96.8 called SINGAPORE NINAIVUGAL (Memories of Singapore). This program was highly popular and many looked forward to his segments, which gave a fresh insight into the Indian Communities’ contribution to Singapore’s history. Even now, his booming voice, synonymous with the program is recognised and his contribution is appreciated by people who still remember this program.

Stressing that while we are lucky in Singapore to have our culture supported by the government through schools, media and cultural institutes, contribution by citizens is equally as vital, which is why Mr Samuel feels that if his work helps people to remember and get involved, he is content.

Mr Samuel’s passion for the Tamil language can be seen eminently in his younger days when he joined the Teachers training college in 1961. There, he was incredulous to find that despite Tamil being one of our official languages, there was as yet no division set up in the 11 years the college had been running. Mr Samuel felt this was an untenable situation, which needed immediate action.

“Tamil was being taught in the tuckshop and on the floor.”

Whilst speaking of the language, it is clear that Mr Samuel considers Tamil to be a beautiful language, which can even convey affection and emotions far better than English could and credits this strong love of language and self-identity to his father.

Besides inculcating love for a language, he mentions that parents are truly inspirational. Reflecting back on his self-sacrificing mum as well as proudly highlighting his children’s achievements, Mr Samuel highlights the importance of developing good values in children and takes pride in knowing he was able to provide for them within his means and help them get where they are.

Mr Samuel has since also served the community in many ways from volunteering in Christian church to taking on the role of secretary in the citizen consultant community for 20 years.

In light of Singapore’s 50th birthday, Mr Samuel calls on all Singaporeans to appreciate Singapore’s achievements.


“Hindus, Christians, Buddhists – that is secondary. First we are Tamils.”

A dedication to the pioneers in the Indian community.

50Faces brings your stories of ordinary Singaporeans who have contributed to our community and nation building.