The Traditional Parrot Astrologer
Among the traditional street vendors in Singapore, the fortune teller is perhaps the most mystical of all. And even within the fortune telling trade, there are distinctive methodologies used by different practitioners. One peculiar type that stands out is the parrot astrologer.
In the world of parrot astrology, the parrot (usually a parakeet) picks your fortune card and the fortune teller takes the role of an interpreter and conveys the message of the card. The first parrot astrologers originated from the South Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and were sighted in numbers in Singapore around the late 19th century.
Based at areas surrounding Serangoon Road in Little India, the parrot astrologers initially catered to the working Indian immigrants although they soon gained popularity with the other communities. Customers usually went to the parrot astrologers to seek answers to specific questions or to fix auspicious dates for occasions like weddings and business openings.
Typical tools of trade include a set of 27 fortune cards based on the Indian cosmic system, images of Hindu gods, charts, a notebook, a simple cage crafted out of bamboo or wood, and most importantly, a parakeet.
Upon receiving a customer’s name and birth date, the fortune teller taps on the cage signaling the parakeet to walk out of the cage along the stack of 27 fortune cards, almost as if it is deliberating on which one to pick. It will then pull out a card with its beak, seemingly at random. Finally it would retreat into the cage. The fortune teller would then reveal the card and interpret the message for the customer, sometimes while referring to his or her notebook. The session may also be complemented with palm reading.
Madam Kamala is a parrot astrologer who has plied the trade for over 40 years. Like the case in many traditional trades where it is handed down to the next generation, Madam Kamala picked up parrot astrology from her mother. She used to station her mobile stall outside Tekka Market at Serangoon Road but decided to migrate to Albert Mall because of the high volume of pedestrians and visitors to both the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho and Sri Krishnan temples.
I already deem it my good fortune to spot a parrot astrologer because of their dwindling numbers. You may however wish to confirm your good fortune by appointing the parakeet for a small token of $5. I can safely say this is the only trade that gives you both a glimpse of the past and the future at the same time.
Vanishing Trades of Singapore Series
The parrot astrologer is part of a group of traditional trades that are slowly vanishing from the Singapore streetscape. You may wish to read about the others below:
- Kacang Puteh Seller
- Mobile Ice Cream Vendor
- Sidewalk Cobbler
- Sungei Road Thieves’ Market Vendor
- Street Hawker