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malaya

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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…

Many of us would recognise nursery rhymes such as “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and “Hot Cross Buns”, but reading Malay versions of these typically British children’s poems in a culturally misplaced context takes some getting used to. A collection of whimsical nursery rhymes given a delightful Malayan spin is the subject of an illustrated compendium published in 1939. Titled Haji’s Book of Malayan Nursery Rhymes, the collection features Malay translations of 100 popular English nursery rhymes. To appeal to its readers, some words in the poems were replaced with local equivalents to give the translated versions a distinctly Malayan flavour. The book is presented in a bilingual format, with the English nursery rhyme immediately followed by its Malay translation (some with accompanying music compositions by H. A. Courtney), and is interspersed with beautiful illustrations. The drawings mostly feature multi-racial characters and settings typical of the era. Additionally, the book contains a glossary of Malay words to help readers with a rudimentary knowledge of Malay to have a better understanding of its contents. According to its…

In the early 1900s, there were few authoritative resources that could provide an accurate picture of Malaya’s colonial history. That changed in 1906, when the book British Malaya was published. Written by Frank Swettenham, the first Resident-General of the Federated Malay States (FMS), the book details the history of the Straits Settlements ports of Singapore, Malacca and Penang – in particular, the establishment of British presence in these colonies. The National Library carries several copies of the book’s 1907 edition. Of these, two copies are in their original yellow covers and were donated by the philanthropist and architect Koh Seow Chuan in 2007. As the official files of the Colonial Office were not accessible at the time, British Malaya remained the only reliable source of information on Malaya’s colonial history till the 1950s, exercising a profound influence over the historiography of Malaya. As Singapore was the administrative capital of British Malaya before World War II, Swettenham’s book was widely read in Singapore. After retiring in 1904, Swettenham delivered a talk at the London School of Economics on…