No one is certain when the Singaporean bird-keeping tradition began, but most people will tell that it started in the 1950s with the British Armed Forces’ formation of the Singapore Cage Bird Society. As bird-keeping grew in popularity, travel guidebooks began to feature Singapore’s bird-singing areas, quickly turning them into tourist attractions that piqued the curiosity of visitors from around the globe.
Today, bird-keeping is very different than it was 70 years ago. Modern times have changed the face of the hobby, and there is a threat that the demise of this past-time will have a profound effect on Singaporeans that goes beyond the birds.
A Country’s Rich Tradition
The Kebun Baru Bird Singing Club – the largest club of its kind in Southeast Asia – is made up predominantly of elderly Singaporeans who possess a steadfast love for songbirds. Sharing that enthusiasm with the other members is what keeps this close-knit group coming back to raise their birds atop 20-foot (6-meter) poles to hear them sing week after week.
Just like the members, the birds also enjoy the benefits of the club. These songbirds love life’s simple pleasures, like enjoying the warmth of the sun and the company of other birds. In fact, the presence of surrounding birds makes them sing even more beautifully than when they are alone.
Risks of a Dying Culture
For these seniors who saw the disappearance of Kampong Culture, life has become increasingly bleak. As Kampong compounds were replaced by Housing Development Board (HDB) high-rises, people began living more secluded lives than ever before.
As in North American culture, Singapore’s seniors struggle with loneliness. Belonging to a bird-singing club does wonders to alleviate relatable issues by giving the elderly a stage for socializing, forming friendships, and resurrecting a lost sense of community.
The Kebun Baru Bird Singing Club is dwindling as very few young people are keeping up the tradition. When this beloved hobby inevitably disappears, one has to wonder what will become of Singapore’s aging population and what other pursuits they will turn to as a way to find joy.