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Jakarta Post

The 5 feet story of Thomas Stamford Raffles

  • Suryatini N. Ganie

Jakarta   /   Sun, December 19 2010   /  11:44 am

The Napoleonic Wars in Europe in the early 19th century reverberated in the small towns of the East Indies: though only for a short time, the British took over the colony from the Dutch. The Governor General was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. He ordered the construction of sidewalks along the main streets of Batavia of a certain height and width: 1 foot (33.5 centimeters) by about 5 feet.Little did Sir Thomas know that sidewalks would become a very lively place for trade and commerce in the future. His 1-foot high and 5-foot deep sidewalks became known as the kaki (feet) lima (five), or the kaki lima. Actually the Malay translation was not correct: 5 feet should be lima kaki. The mistranslation may explain why conventional wisdom holds that the city’s pedagang kaki lima, or street vendors, take their name from pushcarts with 3 feet and the two-footed vendors who push them.The kaki lima i...