Outside the new Ion mall stands the sculpture of a large nutmeg.
As I have mentioned in an earlier article, this is a reflection of the earlier days of Singapore when there were an abundance of plantations and estates producing nutmeg, pepper and gambier.
Today I read a little on the history of nearby Bukit Merah and one of the illustrations showed a crude map of the crops grown in the 19th century and their general location.
Again there was a reference to 'gambier' and I was none the wiser. There was another picture of brownish slabs of gambier extract in a factory but with no additional information.
With a little more digging, if you will excuse the pun, I managed finally discovered what this plant is and why it was so important in the early days of Singapore.
Gambier was vital to the tanning industry in 19th century Europe. In 1896 some 49,000 tons were imported by European tanners and chemicals companies.
No pair of kid gloves could do without it!
In neighbouring Indonesia they have another use for the plant; they chew it with areca and betel. In fact, when the British arrived in Singapore there were already some twenty gambier plantations owned by Chinese or Malays in full production.