AMK: Of Tomatoes & Bridges

Have you ever wondered how Ang Mo Kio got its name? Planned and developed in the 1970s, Ang Mo Kio is a quintessential Housing and Development Board (HDB) heartland with mature neighbourhoods. 

Before the housing town came about, this area was largely covered with secondary forests, swamps and farmland. A 1936 map shows that part of it was marked as a forest reserve under the colonial government. One of the earliest references to this area is in a 1849 report on agriculture in Singapore, written by J T Thomson (1821-1884), Government Surveyor, which mentioned that Amokiah, the name for Ang Mo Kio then, contained sandstone. Early maps of Singapore refer to the area as Amokiah as well. By the 1900s, the area was referred to as Ang Mo Kio. 

Theories about the origins of the name Ang Mo Kio have been raised. Some say that it is the Hokkien term for tomatoes. Others say that it refers to a bridge purportedly built by J T Thomson as ang mo is a Hokkien nickname for Caucasians, and kio means “bridge”. Former villagers in the area, however, report that tomatoes were not planted in the area and the name Ang Mo Kio was not used by locals as a place name. Instead, there were various kam-pungs (Malay: villages) of different names, such as Cheng Sua Lai (Hokkien: Green Hills Interior), Jio Sua (Hokkien: Stone Hill) and Kow Tiow Kio (Hokkien: Nine Bridges). 

So, tomato or caucasian bridge? I guess we will never know which version is true, but it turns out the tomato theory has bbee popular and there are quite a number of tomato images or sculptures in the town centre in honour of the town’s name. Like this twin tomato sculpture found at the Junction of Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 and Ang Mo Kio Central 1.

More recently, a plausible explanation was given by Douglas Hiorns, former General Manager of Bukit Sembawang Estates (1948-1995). According to Hiorns, there were two key tracks crossing Ang Mo Kio, an area with large expanses of swamps and tributaries of rivers running through it. 

Bridges carrying the tracks over the waterways gained a local importance as a result. In the north, a wooden bridge carried Jalan Hwi Yoh over Sungei Tongkang and was locally called pang kio, meaning “wooden bridge” in Hok-kien. The bridge carrying Cheng San Road over the tributary of Kallang River was made of concrete, a material commonly referred to as ang mo he or “Western ash” in Hokkien. As such, the area acquired the name “Ang Mo Kio”. 

Text by National Heritage Board