ITINERANT HAWKER, 1950s
Ministry of Information and The Arts Collection, National Archives of Singapore
Itinerant hawkers were already a common sight in Singapore by the second half of the 19th century. These hawkers sold everything from food to kitchen wares to textiles and moved from place to place to sell their goods. Hawking was a profitable trade which provided good income and required little capital. It was therefore a preferred form of employment especially among those who had no education or few skills. The hawkers were also popular with the general public as they provided convenient access to a whole range of cheap goods and services.
Despite this, itinerant hawkers were seen as a problem by the government especially in terms of public health. In particular, food served by street hawkers was deemed unsafe and unsanitary and was linked to cholera and typhoid outbreaks. Hawkers were also held responsible for the improper disposal of waste which caused the streets to be filled with rubbish and attracted disease-carrying pests such as rats and flies.
In order to solve these problems, the government conducted an island-wide campaign in the 1960s to register and also relocate itinerant hawkers to hawker centres and markets. The Hawkers Department’s Special Squad was formed in 1974 to deal with the remaining unlicensed itinerant hawkers. Four or five vehicles of inspectors were despatched every day to locate illegal hawkers and to carry out raids. Within six months, the situation was brought under control.
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