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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…

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.…