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A 455-year-old map of Southeast Asia tells of the seafaring adventures of 16th-century voyagers, whose journeys took them to exciting, uncharted territories waiting to be explored. As the intrepid voyagers discovered new trade routes in Asia, these unknown lands slowly came into prominence. We are familiar with most of them today; one, in particular, stands out – a place indicated on the map as C. Cinca Pula.

For a tiny island known more for its skyscrapers than its sea-faring adventures, Singapore has a surprisingly bloody history. And while most of this history has been lost over time, one record that tells of a particularly ferocious battle between the Dutch and Portuguese armadas in the early 17th century is found in the National Library.

Originally drawn in 1604, Discripsao chorographica dos estreitos de Sincapura e Sabbam. ano. 1604 (Chorographic Description of the Straits of Sincapura and Sabbam 1604 A.D) is one of the earliest maps to depict pre-colonial Singapore, and more importantly, identifies recognisable names of places – Sunebodo (Sungei Bedok), Tanamena (Tanah Merah), Tanion Ru (Tanjong Rhu) and an island called Blacan Mati (Pulau Blakang Mati or Sentosa) – along its eastern coast. The map refers to the main island as Sincapura – one of several early names given to the island. Another early name for Singapore, as recorded by Flemish merchant Jacques Coutre in the early 1600s, was “Ysla de la Sabandaria Vieja” or “Island of the Old Shahbandaria”. On this map the term “xabandaria” (shahbandar’s or harbour master’s compound), which is marked near the Singapore River, confirms this early reference. This map – which is part of a manuscript entitled Declaracam de Malaca e India Meridional com o Cathay  – is also important because it is one of the earliest to indicate the various maritime channels around Singapore.…