From Temasik to Singapura


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This is a set of history notes for students on the history of Singapore 1299 - 1350. It tells of the founding of Singapore through the use of historical records, archaeology and anthropology. It is intended for high school students in Singapore and those keen on Southeast Asian history.

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From Temasik to Singapura

  1. 1. From Temasek to Singapura 1. INTERPRETING SINGAPORE’S ANCIENT HISTORY There are three ways of learning more about how people lived in ancient Singapore. 1. Archaeology: Archaeologists study objects that have survived since ancient times. They carefully dig, document, analyze and investigate what life was like in the past. 2. Anthropology: Anthropologists study the way people live today in different parts of the world. They look at the way languages and culture are related to each other and how they change. 3. Written sources: Historians interpret and reconstruct history by gathering and investigating written sources about what is written about a place or people in its time. These three methods define the work of a historian who studies and writes about history. The history of ancient Singapore is difficult to piece together because there are so few written historical records about it. Until 1984, many people believed that Singapore was just a sleepy Malay fishing village founded by the British in 1819. However, more evidence from archaeology, anthropology and other written sources show that Singapore was more than that! It was an ancient seaport with complex trade networks with a grand history. These are some historical accounts that help us reconstruct and re-interpret Singapore history Traveler accounts: A Chinese trader, Wang Dayuan, wrote about a large Chinese overseas settlement in Singapura. Malay Literature: The Malay Annals: An unknownMalay author compiled the Malay Annals in 1436 to trace the origins of their rulers. According to this source, the rulers of Singapura were buried on Fort Canning. Written accounts: A British government official, John Crawfurd, described the remains of a thick defensive wall in 1821. Anthropology studies: Sea People or Orang Laut were expert sailors who specialized in collecting natural products like pearls, sea cucumber, resins and edible bird’s nests which they exchanged with different settlements. Archaeology: Precious artefacts like gold armlets. rings and expensive porcelain and pottery found atop Fort Canning suggest it was a home for Malay,kings and royalty. 1
  2. 2. 2. 14th CENTURY SINGAPORE: FROM TEMASIK TO SINGAPURA (1300-1350) Legends and folk stories have their place in history. Anthropologists believe that folklore passes on information and wisdom of human experience from one generation to the next by word of mouth. This is called having an oral tradition. Such oral traditions are a way for humans to build common beliefs and strengthen a sense of belonging in a community. Oral traditions also deliver moral values in the form of stories. Legends and folklore may not be historically accurate but they are useful ways for humanity to remember their own history. Because there is little historical record of Singapore’s early history, oral tradition, legends and folklore play an important part in how we interpret early Singapore history. One of the most important source of information comes from the Sululatu’s-salatinwhich was later called the SejarahMelayu (History of Malays/Malay Annals) written in 1612 which was written to give support to the rulers of Malacca. There are about 30 version of the SejarahMelayuand it should not intended to be taken literally to be history. The original version,theSululatu's-salatin, dated around 1436. It was just a genealogy (Royal family line) without all the additional stories Temasik is Old Malay. The Majapahit source calls it Tumasik. The SejarahMelayu describes the change of name from Temasik to Singapura by its first ruler, Sri Tri Buana. The Legend of Singapura :The Origins of Sang NilaUtama Raja Chulan, a descendent of Alexander the Great, ruled a powerful kingdom in India called Kalinga. He set out to conquer China. The Chinese heard of the plan and sent a leaky old boat with elderly toothless men to meet the war fleet. On his voyage, Raja Chulan fell in love with a sea princess who lived beneath the sea and she bore him three princes on Seguntung hill near Palembang, in Sumatra. There was a strange glow on the hill and the rice there turned to gold. [In real history: Raja Chulan was a real historical figure. He was modelled after RajendraChola, the Tamil king of the Choladynaty from Coromandel in South India. Naval raids were probably carried out in 1017 and 1025 A.D. on the Malay kingdom of Srivijaya and Palembang by Chola forces] The three princes grew up to become:The Raja of Minangkabau in west Sumatra; The Raja of TanjungPura in Borneol Sang NilaUtama, the Raja of Palembang 2
  3. 3. DemangLebarDaun or Chief Broad Leaf was the chief of Palembang. He promised that he would swear himself and his people to loyalty to Sang NilaUtama. In return, Sang NilaUtama promised that he would never oppress or shame his subjects. This was an important promise. The followers would become the Orang Laut or sea people of the Riau-Lingga islands (Singapura included) and southern Johor. On his coronation day, Sang NilaUltama changed his Malay name to the Sanskrit name, Sri Tri Buana or Lord of the Three Worlds. The Founding of Singapura Legend Sri Tri Buana left Palembang and travelled to Bintan. He was looked on favorably by Queen Sakidar Shah of Bintan who had a powerful fleet of 400 ships. The Queen adopted him as a son and gave him musical instruments (nobat) as a symbol of his royalty. [In real history: Archaeological research shows along the shores of Singapore, there is a fine layer of fine white sand along the shores of Singapore. It stretches from the Singapore River to Kampong Glam.] [In real history: Women in Southeast Asian society had a very important role to play in society with great political influence.] Buana was out hunting with IndraBopal, the Queen’s chief minister and one day and saw a piece of land on the far shores with white sparkling sand. IndraBopal told him that the land was called Temasik and they set out to explore it. While at sea, a storm struck and they threw everything aboard including a crown. When the crown was thrown overboard, the sea immediately turned calm. The ships they were in drifted aimlessly in the direction of TelokBlangah (Cook Pot Bay). While out hunting in Temasik, they saw an animal which was a cross between a goat and a sloth. It had a dark red body (like an Orang Utan) and had blackish/whitish head with a white breast. Chief Broad Leaf thought it was a lion. Sri Tri Buana thought it was a good omen and decided to name it Singapura which was Sanskrit for ‘Lion City’. [Real History: In Hinduism, the lion is an avatar or symbol of the Hindu God Vishnu. In Buddhism, Buddha sits upon the lion as a symbol of strength, wisdom and consistency. According to Sumatran legends, a mythical creature called the Janggi guards gold mines] Sri Tri Buana died after 48 years. He was buried on the hill of SIngapura together with the Queen Sakidar Shah and DemangLebarDaun. Many Singapores There were even many Singapores in early Southeast Asia: One is in the Jataka tales about the previous lives of the Buddha, others in Champa, south Thailand (during the Tang Dynasty), West Java (5th century AD) and central Thailand. There is even a large Khmer temple today called Singburi in Thai. The word “buri” comes from “pura”. Thus, Sing buri means Singapura 3
  4. 4. 3. The Inhabitants of Singapura (1290 – 1350) The first eyewitness of trade in Singapore was by Wang Da Yuan. He was a Chinese trader fromQuanzhou who was born in 1311 and wrote about 99 places he visited as a trader and took note of the trade items, culture and traditions. He wrote 岛夷志略Dao Yi Zhi Lue or Essential Notes on Foreign lands in 1349 and mentioned Singapura. Wang Da Yuan called Singapore Dan Ma Xi or Temasik. He said that there were two main settlements. Long Yamen: They are addicted to piracy. They love pillage and plunder. The local natives and Chinese live side by side. They tie their hair in a neat bun and wear short cotton colothes which are blue-green in color. They rade in lakawod and tin dust. They also trade in red gold, blue-green silk, batik, local pots and iron containers. Many of their goods are obtained from piracy. The tribal leader wears a jade crown and the year begins when he wears it on the 1st month 1st day when the moon is sighted. The Long Yamen or Dragon’s Tooth Strait was named after a rock outcrop which was found off Labrador Point. The Malays called it BatuBerlayar or ‘Sail Rock’. The outcrop of rock was removed in the mid 19th century to when Keppel Harbour was being constructed to make the waterways safer for ships. Pancur/ Banzu: They are generally honest. They wear their hair short and wear false gold-patterned satin wrapped around their heads. There is a red-oiled cloth wrapped around their body. They boil sea water to get salt and process rice to produce rice wine. They trade in goods like satin, red gold, pottery and iron urns. According to the Hikayat Abdullah written by Abdullah Mushi in 1845, a spring of water flowed from the hill of Singapore. It was called pancurlarangan (forbidden spring) because women of the Malay ruler’s household bathed and washed there. The supplied the water needs of nearby ships and settlers right up till 1857. In Indonesian archaeology, bathing sites are and usually decorated with, brick structures, stone carvings and water spouts. Archaeology on Fort Canning Hill has however failed to turn up such findings. 4. How do you tell if an eyewitness account is false? Language: Is the language used different from the way we use it today? Observation: How well does the writer observe things? Is it detailed? Consistency: Does his report contradict or go against what we know? Is there consistency? Contradiction: Does he contradict himself as he writes? Bias:How does he report what he sees? Is it biased or one-sided 4
  5. 5. Glossary Archaeology: A systematic way of studying past human life and culture by recovering and examining material evidence, such as graves, buildings, inscriptions, tools, and pottery. Anthropology: A scientific study of the origins, physical and cultural development,biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humanity. Bukit Larangan: Forbidden Hill. This is a small hill slightly more than 60 metres high in Singapore where the palaces and tombs of ancient Malay kings were once situated. Malay Annals/ SejarahMelayu: A royal genealogy of Malay kings first written in 1436 by an unknown author. This was aimed at tracing the origins of Malay kings and justifying their rule. Orang Laut: People of the Sea. This group of expert Malay sailors lived in the Riau islands and were expert sailors who specialzed in collecting natural sea products, resins and bird’s nests. They were organized as suku or divisions which led Malay war-boats between the 7th Century AD to late 19th century. Sri Tri Buana: The Sanskrit name given to Prince Sang NilaUtama from Palembang. Sri Tri Buana means ‘Lord of the Three Worlds’. Raja Chulan: In the Malay Annals, Raja Chulan was an India ruler from Kalinga who set out to conquer China. His love4 affair with a sea princess bore him three sons. One of them was Sang NilaUtama, Raja of Palembang. Raja Chulan is modelled after the real historical character, RajendraChola, Tamil king of the Chola dynasty who defeated Sri Vijaya in 1025. Queen Sakidar Shah: In the Malay Annals, she was the powerful queen of Bintan with a fleet of 400 ships. She adopted Sri Tri Buana as her son. Nobat: Royal Malay musical ensemble. In Malay tradition, all the items are considered sacred and symbolic of royalty. The Nobat is only played on special occasions. Temasik: Sea Town in Old Javanese and the old name for Singapura in the 14th century. The Chinese name for Temasik was t was Dan Maxi. Singapura: Lion City in Sansrkit. It was the new name given to Singapore in the 14th century after it was founded by Sri Tri Buana in 1299. DemangLebarDaun: Chief Broad Leaf, the raja of Palembang. He abdicated in favour of Sri Tri Buana and pledged his people’s loyalty to him. Sanskrit: A historical Indo-Aryan ancient language which originated from India. It was popular in the 13th century and was widely used for poetry, drama, science, philosophy and religious practices in Hinduism and Buddhism. 5
  6. 6. Long Yamen: Dragon’s Tooth in Chinese. This term refers to a craggy granite outcrop which stood at the southern gateway of Singapore off Labrador Point. It was mentioned by Wang Dayuan to serve as a navigational reference point for ancient mariners sailing through the area. Pancur / Banzu: A name given by Wang Dayuan to civilized settlers who lived in the Bukit Larangan area. Pancur means ‘spring’ in Malay and may have referred to a forbidden spring in Bukit Larangan where the women of the Malay ruler’s household bathed and did their washing. Ceramic: pots and other articles made from clay and hardened by heat. Porcelain: A white translucent ceramic made by firing pure clay and glazing it with different colored materials. Wang Dayuan: A Chinese trader from Quanzhou who wrote about his travels during the Yuan dynasty. Wang gave the first foreign eyewitness account of Singapuraiand the region 1349. Books Miksic, J.N. Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea 1300-1800. Singapore: NUS Press and National Museum of Singapore, 2013) Miksic, J.N & Low, Cheryl-Ann MekGek (Eds).Early Singapore 1300s – 1819. (Singapore: Singapore History Museum, 2004) Websites Southeast Asian archaeology website: World of Temasekonline game: 6