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By the 20th century, Singapore's population had grown significantly as migrants poured in and settled here. To meet rising water needs, the Water Engineer recommended in 1920 that another reservoir be created by damning Seletar River. This reservoir was thus built in the same year.
Indigenous nomads known as Orang Seletar used to traverse the waterways in this northern part of Singapore, even up to the 1980s. The Orang Seletar lived on houseboats, where all their belongings and food were stored. Fishing was their main activity, and they used spears rather than nets. They were known for their rich knowledge of the mangroves and the forest flora and fauna, as well as their expertise in gathering products from these sources. In the 1960s, the Orang Seletar began moving out of Singapore. By the late 1980s, most of them had resettled in Johor, Malaysia. The reminder are assimilated with the Malay population today.
Before rubber and pineapple planting took over, Seletar River and its surroundings were covered with gambier and pepper plantations. The first known gambier and pepper plantation here was actually discovered by the British in 1847, along a branch of the Seletar River. Pepper was usually planted with gambier as the refuse from gambier processing could be used to protect the roots of pepper while fertilizing them at the same time. Gambier could also be harvested while the planters waited for pepper to mature. By the late 1880s, gambier and pepper planting had dwindled in Singapore as most planters moved to Johor.