Image credit: The Straits Times. New statues erected beside iconic Sir Stamford Raffles statue along Singapore River. From Right to left, Sang Nila Utama, Naraina Pillai, Sir Stamford Raffles, Munshi Abdullah and Tan Tock Seng.
Sang Nila Utama was a Palembang prince who first saw a vision of a lion and established the Singapura Kingdom in 1299.
Tan, Munshi and Naraina were among the first settlers to arrive in Singapore in 1819 and are widely regarded as pioneering leaders of the island's main communities.
Tan was a merchant, philanthropist and community leader who contributed to starting a hospital that is named after him.
Munshi was Raffles' secretary, interpreter and Malay tutor who documented key events in Singapore after Raffles landed, and is regarded as the founder of modern Malay literature.
Naraina was chief clerk at the treasury and a local leader of the Indian community.
The unveiling of these 4 new statues during the Singapore Bicentennial commemorates 200 years since Raffles’ landing and attempts to mark the contributions of a range of pioneers and early settlers. However, this is a narrative in question as recognizing the bicentennial inherently accepts the narrative that there was a start date for Modern Singapore and one that was characterized by the arrival of the British. The Singapore Bicentennial perhaps exposes the way in which the state thinks of itself and I think it is important that we make a conscious effort to probe deeper into the history as there can be much more to gather that will shape the way in which Singaporeans perceive themselves away from the colonial myths and I do believe many Singaporeans are indeed aware of this
Further reading: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/understanding-the-ambivalence-about-the-bicentennial-11039360
Image Credit: The Straits Times. First Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew with his wife Madam Kwa Geok Choo photographed in Cambridge.
"Yet one of the most important lessons which he drew from the British - and one which, sadly, is seldom recalled today - is that independence neither required a complete break with the old colonial power, nor was an automatic ticket to prosperity.”—Jonathan Eyal, European Correspondent of The Straits Times.
Back in 1950, he reminded Totnes voters that the British were receiving at that time more money from Malaysia's rubber plantations and tin mines than war-torn Britain was getting in subsidies from the United States. Britain, he argued, had to pay attention to Malaysia and take the administration of its colonies seriously. It also had to prepare for life after the empire.
I thought that it was interesting to show and acknowledge that one of Singapore’s founding politicians had received his formal and political education from the British. I think this is an important perspective as an International Student from Singapore studying in the U.K. it is important to consider that perhaps decolonization happens on the daily. It is becoming an outsider to both cultures yet simultaneously in them allowing some sort of distance that allows a careful consideration of the pros and cons of each. Decolonization in this instance I would suggest is, in a privileged way, non-violent but rather a mental and emotional exercise in reflexivity and being vigilant against ideology. It is important to build on those ties that we have as I think the other end of the spectrum would be to adopt a nationalist ideology (as the world seems increasingly to be) and dangerously so if a people are inherently unsure of what their national identity necessarily consists of.
On a personal level, I am not the biggest fan of our founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the idolatry that surrounds him but neither am I ignorant to the fact that his policies were crucial and necessary in the formation of the country as it is today.
Further Reading: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/04/colonialism-work-singapore-postcolonial-british-empire
Image Credit: Goh Chiew Tong from Channel News Asia. Chinese coins from 13th/14th Century found at the Empress Place archaeological excavation.
"School textbooks say Singapore was founded in 1819. For generations, this has been accepted as the nation’s official start date, while many were taught that Raffles transformed the mangrove swamps into a bustling port.
“A 14th-century Chinese source said the people of Temasek lived on this hill, on terraces cut into it … implying that there were many people living here, not just the nobles. So it could’ve been already a large multi-ethnic group.”
This multiculturalism at work, however, contrasts with what he thinks has been “an emphasis, for tourism purposes, on marketing large blocks of areas in Singapore as though they were mono-ethnic”, when that “isn't true”.“There’s a danger that we’ll believe that artificial narrative, and then, by extrapolating from that, we’d assume that people lived in isolated blocs,"
The issue that is being presented here is one where historical facts seem to contradict existing state narratives. I think a big part of the decolonization discussion is about weighing up different facts and recognizing that narratives can and should change in the emergence of new information but most importantly, having the humility to accept and embrace these changes as they pertain to our sense of cultural identity.
Image selection and post written by JJ