Vol 11 Issue 4, Jan-Mar 2016

Highlights of the National Library

The First Newspaper

Long before the advent of modern communications and transportation systems, merchants in 19th-century Singapore relied on the humble newspaper to track shipping arrivals and departures. As the movement of cargo, people and mail was key to the island’s rise as a maritime port, the Singapore Chronicle‘s chief task was to disseminate commercial information and news.

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A Dictionary that Bridged Two Races

Soon after Singapore gained independence in 1965, the government announced that English would be the lingua franca that would unite the linguistically diverse population. But attempts to forge a common language in Singapore had begun as early as the 19th century, when Chinese migrants to Singapore – the majority of whom spoke Southern Min dialects(闽南语) such as Hokkien – tried to communicate with the Malay-speaking indigenous population.…

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Through the Eye Glass

The journal Cermin Mata Bagi Segala Orang Yang Menuntut Pengetahuan is among the earliest Malay serial publications existing today. Translated literally as An “Eye Glass for All Who Seek Knowledge”, it was one of the most ambitious and voluminous of all 19th-century missionary journals printed in Malaya. Seven issues of Cermin Mata in Jawi – the modified Arab script used to write the Malay…

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Hear Ye Hear Ye

In Singapore, notifications of all new laws passed by parliament are officially announced in the government gazette, a time-honoured practice that continues to this day. One of its earliest iterations was the Straits Government Gazette, published in 1858 when Singapore was still a part of the Straits Settlements and under the government of the Colonial Office of Calcutta in India. Similar in content to…

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Stories of Abdullah

Quite ironically, the most detailed account of Stamford Raffles’ momentous arrival in Singapore was captured by a man who was not even there. Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, better known as Munshi Abdullah, gathered reports from those present to piece together a version of the events that occurred during Raffles’ first arrival to Singapore on 29 January 1819. This landmark narrative is included in his autobiography Hikayat…

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Indian Muslim Devotional Poems

The early Indian Muslims who settled in Singapore in the 1800s brought with them a varied heritage: their skills as shopkeepers and office workers, their unique customs and beliefs, and a tradition of devout poetry. Indeed, their religious faith was a key source of solace for these transplanted Muslims from the southern part of India, who often expressed their piety in the form of verse.…

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When Singapore Was Cinca Pula

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…

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Legends of the Malay Kings

The Sejarah Melayu is considered by scholars as an important literary work on the history and genealogy of the Malay kings of the Malacca Sultanate (1400–1511). Partially composed in the 17th century in Jawi – the modified Arabic script used to express the Malay language – the title is derived from its original Arabic name, Sulalat al-Salatin (Genealogy of Kings). But few are…

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The Book That Almost Didn’t Happen

By John Henry Moor’s reckoning, the book he published in December 1837 was beset with failures. Notices of the Indian Archipelago, and Adjacent Countries had been intended as the first part of a magnum opus that the Singapore newspaper editor had grandly announced in 1835. Moor’s goal was to print a massive compendium comprising two volumes: one compiling reprints of articles first published in…

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Raffles’ Letters Of Intrigue

Singapore was almost not founded by Stamford Raffles. Four letters that detail Raffles’ passionate defence to establish a British trading outpost on the island in 1819 offer insight into the objections he faced from the Dutch as well as his own British masters. Written between 1820 and 1823 to Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, the 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, the letters reveal the lengths that Raffles…

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A Portuguese Map of Sincapura

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)…

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In Aid of the Motherland

Fundraising activities can tell us a lot about the people in need and those who raise the funds for them. A rare publication titled Singapore Tong Seok Dramatic Association Charity Performance for the Shantung Relief Fund (星洲通俗白话剧团演 剧筹赈山东惨灾会特刊), commemorating a fundraising performance that took place in early 20th-century Singapore, gives us a glimpse of exactly…

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