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Irene Lim

Browsing

The year 1914 brought with it the devastation of World War I, and the beginning of widespread food shortages and hikes in food prices. The expatriate community in Malaya was not spared either, but one woman’s passion for cooking – documented in a compilation of 420 recipes – helped numerous expatriate women in the region prepare flavourful meals for their families on their shoestring budgets. The National Library Board wins hearts (and minds) around the world with its SG50 Gift of Books initiative. Amelia Tan has the details. First published in 1920, the book, titled The “Mem’s” Own Cookery Book: 420 Tried and Economical Recipes for Malaya, was written by Mrs W. E. Kinsey, the wife of British expatriate William Edward Kinsey. Her recipes were based on local ingredients, and came with notes on prices and where the ingredients could be bought more cheaply. This made the book a lifesaver for hapless foreign mems – the term used by…

As part of the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Singapore’s founding, a book was commissioned to detail the history and contributions of the colony’s Chinese community. This became the classic text, One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore, which chronicles 19th-century Chinese society in Singapore from 1819 to 1919. The 602-page tome also serves as an excellent reference on the who’s who in Singapore’s early Chinese community, particularly the Straits Chinese elites. Originally envisioned as individual chapters in another seminal publication, One Hundred Years of Singapore, the history of the Chinese in Singapore proved weighty enough for the book’s editors – Walter Makepeace, Gilbert Edward Brooke and Roland St. John Braddell – to spin it off as a separate title. Song Ong Siang was asked to write the book, and it was published in London by James Murray in 1923 (and not in 1902 as stated on…

The implementation of English law in Singapore, along with Penang and Malacca, is detailed in Roland St. John Braddell’s landmark The Law of the Straits Settlements: A Commentary. Although this book is not the first attempt at documenting the legal history of Singapore, it has, nonetheless, contributed significantly to its study, and is regarded as a classic by scholars even today. In the 1890s, a group of Peranakan (Straitsborn Chinese) intellectuals decided to publish a magazine for the Straits community in Malaya. Singapore’s legal system can trace its origins to the British colonial era when it first adopted the English legal system. The First Charter of Justice Singapore was established on 6 February 1819, when Stamford Raffles signed a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor and Temenggong Abdul Rahman to establish a trading post in Singapore. Earlier in 1807, the British Crown had granted the British East India Company the First Charter of Justice to establish a Court of Judicature in…

In the days before eating at a hawker centre became so commonplace, housewives in Singapore would routinely whip up freshly cooked meals for their families. No good kitchen would be complete without condiments such as sambal belachan (a fiery concoction of chilli and shrimp paste) and tau cheo (fermented bean paste). Yet until the 1950s, cookbooks featuring homespun Asian recipes just did not exist. Recipes were generally passed down orally from mother to daughter and most took the form of hastily scribbled notes that only its owner could make out. Most cookbooks in Malaya and Singapore were written by expatriates for their own community. Publications such as The “Mem’s” Own Cookery Book (1929, 3rd edition) and Y.W.C.A. International Cookery Book of Malaya (1935) – both available at the National Library – typically focused on how to create European dishes using local ingredients, interspersed with Malayan translations of English food names and the nutritional information of indigenous ingredients. Into this vacuum stepped Ellice Handy, née Ellice Zuberbuhler, a Eurasian and the first Singaporean principal of Methodist Girls’ School (MGS).…

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.

By the late 16th century, the Portuguese had dominated the trade in Southeast Asia for nearly a hundred years. Its monopoly depended on closely guarded knowledge about the best sailing routes to the region, known as the East Indies at the time. But a Dutchman called Jan Huygen van Linschoten changed the course of history for Singapore and Southeast Asia by deciphering the secrets of the Portuguese and sharing them with the world. Linschoten was the secretary to Don Frey Vicente de Fonseca, the Archbbishop of Goa, which was then under Portuguese rule. During his employment, Linschoten painstakingly made copies of archives that spelt out the closely guarded sailing directions. Combining this information with his own travel experiences and observations in Goa, Linschoten created a maritime handbook that was published in 1595. The following year, he revealed even more of his hard-earned knowledge in a second, more detailed work: Itinerario, Voyage ofte Schipvaert van Jan Huygen van Linschoten naer Oost ofte Portugaels Indien, 1579–1592 (Travel Account of the Voyage of the Sailor Jan Huygen van Linschoten to…