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In the time before long-distance air travel, the journey to the hajj from Southeast Asia was by sea. In the days of “steamships” Muslim pilgrims were away from home for months; further back in time to sailing ships they might be away for well over a year.


The journey was slow and the connections could be uncertain. For many years the ships could be seriously overcrowded and – in the nineteenth century – often unseaworthy. Conditions on board could be very testing; downright uncomfortable. But, like so many of the journeys of “ordinary” people throughout history, those who travelled left no records.


How do we get a feel for this journey? How was it made? What did it “cost” those who made it?


Through maps, images, and anecdotes – from those who served on the ships, and from some who sailed – Kapal Haji: Singapore and the Hajj Journey by Sea paints a picture of how these journeys were established and how they were run.


Kapal Haji was published in September 2019. For a preview of a few pages click here.



Why this book?

Looking at his own neighbourhood and community, the Liverpool poet, Brian Patten wrote:


There was so much I ought to have recorded,
So many lives that have vanished –
Families, neighbours; people whose pockets
Were worn thin by hope. They were
The loose change history spent without caring.
Now they have become the air I breathe,
Not to have marked their passing seems such a betrayal.


From The Betrayal, Brian Patten


This book is prompted by the feeling that many “lives that have vanished” should be remembered.



Reviews / Comments

In the era prior to the take-off of commercial jet air travel, Hajj pilgrims from the Nusantara region travelled to the Holy Land by ship. This sensitively-researched book traces the seaborne journeys of pilgrims who travelled via Singapore during the century and a half up to the 1970s. Anthony Green and Mohd Raman Daud focus not on colonial maritime infrastructure nor on the spiritual force of ritual practice at Mecca, but on fleshing out human experiences associated with shipping to, through and from Singapore to the port of Jeddah. In addition to mapping social lives, interactions and hardships that are a world apart from how the Hajj pilgrimage is performed by Southeast Asians in the twenty-first century, Kapal Haji is a sensitively-researched contribution to work on Singapore’s connected and cosmopolitan historical geography.


Tim Bunnell
Professor of Geography, and Director, Asia Research Institute,
National University of Singapore



I think it is a really empirically rich book, a well-illustrated and heartfelt documentation of what is for many an emotionally charged experience as much as it was also a logistically fascinating enterprise. There are even wonderful snippets on religious architectural landmarks in the Hejaz that have since then been destroyed. Many of the images have also been analysed for content and information has been gleaned directly from these visual sources. There is a lot for the reader to respond to.


Imran bin Tajudeen Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, Dept of Architecture, School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore.



Available from:

Online at:


Book Depository
World Scientific Publishers
In Singapore, visit Wardah Books, 58 Bussorah Street (+65 6297 1232)
In Singapore, there’s Kinokuniya
and also Kinokuniya in Kuala Lumpur