HISTORY OF

SINGAPORE
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Sigapore Old Map

Singapura!

During the 14th century, this small but strategically-located island earned a new name. According to legend, Sang Nila Utama, a Prince from Palembang (the capital of Srivijaya), was out on a hunting trip when he caught sight of an animal he had never seen before. Taking it to be a good sign, he founded a city where the animal had been spotted, naming it “The Lion City” or Singapura, from the Sanskrit words “simha” (lion) and “pura” (city). The city was then ruled by the five kings of ancient Singapura. Located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, the natural meeting point of sea routes, the city flourished as a trading post for vessels such as Chinese junks, Arab dhows, Portuguese battleships, and Buginese schooners.

Segregation Process

In 1822, Raffles implemented the Raffles Town Plan, also known as the Jackson Plan, to address the issue of growing disorderliness in the colony. Ethnic residential areas were segregated into four areas. The European Town had residents made up of European traders, Eurasians and rich Asians, while the ethnic Chinese were located in present-day Chinatown and south-east of the Singapore River. Ethnic Indians resided at Chulia Kampong north of Chinatown, and Kampong Glam consisted of Muslims, ethnic Malays and Arabs who had migrated to Singapore. Singapore continued to develop as a trading post, with the establishment of several key banks, commercial associations and Chambers of Commerce. In 1924, a causeway opened linking the northern part of Singapore to Johor Bahru.

Singapore, a British Crown Colony

Singapore’s prosperity suffered a major blow during World War II, when it was attacked by the Japanese on 8 December 1941. The invaders arrived from the north, confounding the British military commanders who had expected an attack by sea from the south. Despite their superior numbers, the Allied forces surrendered to the Japanese on Chinese New Year, 15 February 1942. It was the largest surrender of British-led forces in history. The island, once feted as an “impregnable fortress”, was renamed Syonan-to (or “Light of the South Island” in Japanese). When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the island was handed over to the British Military Administration, which remained in power until the dissolution of the Straits Settlement comprising Penang, Melaka and Singapore. In April 1946, Singapore became a British Crown Colony.

Independence of Singapore

In 1959, the growth of nationalism led to self-government, and the country’s first general election. The People’s Action Party (PAP) won a majority of 43 seats and Lee Kuan Yew became the first prime minister of Singapore. In 1963, Malaysia was formed, comprising of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo (now Sabah). The move was meant to foster closer ties. However, Singapore’s merger proved unsuccessful, and less than two years later on 9 August 1965, it left Malaysia to become an independent and sovereign democratic nation. Today, many slices of Singapore’s multi-cultural, colonial and wartime past are preserved in and around the city. You can visit monuments, museums and memorials, or for a real trip through time, take a walk along a heritage trail.

People of Singapore

CHINESE: The Chinese are the largest ethnic group in Singapore, making up almost three-quarters of the country’s population. It's not surprising then that Chinese culture – from the language and food to entertainment and festivals - features prominently in Singapore. Most of them made the trek here from the southern provinces of China, including Fujian and Guandong. Those from the Hokkien and Teochew dialect groups are the most populous, followed by members of the Cantonese, Hainanese and other smaller groups. Many of the Chinese in Singapore were immigrants from China's southern provinces. Many came here to escape harsh conditions at home and ended up as coolies, or labourers. Others showed a flair for making money, and many of the city’s notable entrepreneurs were of Chinese descent. Today, Singaporean Chinese are well represented across different segments of society – from politics and business to sports and entertainment circles. While their traditional culture has since been blended with other local ethnicities and Western influences, the festival of Chinese New Year is still celebrated with much gusto; a raucous reminder of what it means to be Chinese.

INDIAN: The Indians are Singapore’s third largest ethnic group, and the community here boasts one of the largest overseas Indian populations. Many came here from the Southern part of India after the British settled in Singapore in 1819. Today, almost 60 percent of the Indian residents here are of ethnic Tamil ancestry. More than half of Singapore’s ethnic Indians are also Hindus. Known for their entrepreneurial instincts, many Indians set up businesses here, trading everything from textiles to jewellery. Today, they are also well represented in political and professional circles. The Indians in Singapore are one of the Indian community's largest population overseas. You can't talk about Singaporean Indians without mentioning their cuisine, which adds an extra zing in Singapore’s diverse food scene with favourites such as Thosai (savoury pancake) and Vadai (fried fritter). Indian festivals here are colourful, upbeat affairs. Deepavali, or the Festival of Lights, is the main Indian festival, while Thaipusam, where devotees pierce themselves in an act of cleansing, is a fascinating spectacle.

MALAYS: The original settlers of Singapore, the Malays are the second largest ethnic group here. As such their culture has influenced other ethnicities that arrived here later. The Malays in Singapore come originally from the surrounding regions, including the Indonesian islands of Java and Bawean, as well as the Malayan peninsula. The Malay language spoken by the locals here is closer to the version spoken in Peninsular Malaysia than Indonesia. It is said that the Malays are Singapore's oldest settler Their cuisine, featuring dishes such as nasi lemak (aromatic rice infused with coconut cream and pandan leaves) and mee rebus (yellow noodles in a spicy gravy), holds sway over local and Hari Raya Haji see this close-knit community come together in a colourful celebration of their culture and religion

EURASIAN: The small but influential Eurasian community in Singapore encapsulates the east meets west vibe of the country. This ethnic group is made of people who have mixed European and Asian lineage and have been present in Singapore since the early 19th Century. Most Eurasians in Singapore can trace the European part of their ancestry to the Portuguese, Dutch or British, while their Asian ancestry can be traced to the Chinese, Malays or Indians. The first Eurasians came a few years after the British founded Singapore in 1819, and hailed mainly from Penang and Malacca. During the colonial period, many Eurasians were employed as clerks in the civil service, European banks as well as commercial and trading houses. The women worked mainly as teachers and nurses. The first Eurasians came a few years after the British founded Singapore. There are around 15,000-30,000 Eurasians in Singapore today, making up less than 1 per cent of the population. That said, they feature prominently in the country’s media and entertainment industries. English is the first language of Eurasians, although some from the older generation who are of Portuguese descent speak a version of the Portugese language known as Kristang. Eurasians also have their own culinary traditions including signatures such as Mulligatawny soup (a curry-based broth), Shepherd’s pie and Sugee cake, whose main ingredient is semolina.

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