The First Print Stories and legends of early Singapore display


A rare book documenting Singapore’s early history will be on public display for the first time as Singapore marks its Bicentennial year. The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) is one of the earliest documentations of Singapore’s history. Munsyi Abdullah published the first printed version of the Sejarah Melayu in Jawi script in 1840. Given that there are only five copies in public institutions worldwide today, we are fortunate to have gotten this copy last year as part of the National Library’s Singapore documentary heritage collection.

The Sejarah Melayu will be featured at Level 11 of the National Library Building as part of The First Print: Stories and Legends of Early Singapore display, which runs from January to October 2019. It has been considered the standard to which generations of scholars and students refer to for information on early Singapore. We hope that the display will promote a greater appreciation and awareness of Singapore’s rich literary heritage, through the National Library’s collection on Singapore and the Southeast Asian region.

Originally known as the Sulalat al-Salatin (Genealogy of Kings), the text presents Singapore as a naval and trading power from the 13th century and is a key source that shows Singapore as a thriving, dynamic and cosmopolitan port city. It includes familiar stories like the founding of Singapore by Sang Nila Utama and the legend of the strong man Badang. This is the first printed text of the Sejarah Melayu as it previously existed only in manuscript form. The printing of this text in 1840 by the Mission Press in Singapore enabled mass and easy access to Sejarah Melayu as more people had the opportunity to read it.


National Library’s The First Print: Stories and Legends of Early Singapore display

The First Print consists of three showcases with the following themes:

  1. The First Print: Stories and Legends of Singapore
  2. The Munsyi’s Lasting Impact
  3. A Timeless Tale Through the Ages

From the c.1840 book printed by Munsyi Abdullah to modern reproductions for Malay, English, Chinese and Japanese audiences, the display will examine the historical significance and continued relevance of Sejarah Melayu. One of the complementary items on display is Shellabear’s Sejarah Malayu (1898) in Romanised Malay. In fact, Shellabear had referenced the c.1840 edition of Sejarah Melayu which he consulted whilst in Singapore. His edition was so popular that it was later reprinted numerous times and taught in schools across the Straits Settlements even into the 1990s. Please refer to Annex A for the full list of 8 display items.

The rare copy of Sejarah Melayu by Munsyi Abdullah will only be on dispay at the National Library from 23 January to 24 March 2019. As it is written in the Jawi script, detailed English write-ups accompany each item. In addition to the original copy of the Sejarah Melayu text on display, visitors can scan a QR code at the display panel to access the digitised copy of Sejarah Melayu on BookSG (, which is the National Library’s online collection of digitised books and other printed materials including rare and historical imprints.

Sejarah Melayu by Munsyi Abdullah will subsequently be shown in digital format when it roves to four other public libraries as shown below. In this way, members of the public can have easier access to key historical documents and selected new rare items in the National Library’s collection.

  • Central Public Library – 2 April to 28 April 2019
  • Jurong Public Library – 29 April to 30 June 2019
  • Tampines Regional Library – 1 July to 1 September 2019
  • Woodlands Regional Library – 2 September to 31 October 2019

The display will feature commissioned paper artwork by LULO Paper Studio, that highlights two scenes in the Sejarah Melayu: the appearance of the strong man Badang in a duel with Nadi Bijaya Pikrama and Sang Nila Utama’s sighting of a mysterious creature. The display will also be complemented with audio readings of these popular legends and video interviews with Professor John N. Miksic, Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore and Dr Kartini Anwar, Department of Asian Languages & Cultures, National Institute of Education, on the origins and significance of the Sejarah Melayu. For details of the elements in the display, please refer to Annex B.


About National Library Board 
The National Library Board (NLB) nurtures Readers for Life, Learning Communities and a Knowledgeable Nation by promoting reading, learning and history through its network of 26 public libraries, the National Library and the National Archives of Singapore. NLB also forges strategic partnerships that encourage awareness, appreciation and greater discovery of Singapore’s history through its rich collections on Singapore and the region.

NLB achieves excellence through innovation, focusing on citizen engagement and co-creation, resource and digital innovation. This creates learning opportunities, greater access to library resources, services and archival collections, as well as a continual development of innovative library spaces. Established on 1 September 1995 as a statutory board, NLB is under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

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For media enquiries, please contact:

Mr Ernest Lee
Hill+Knowlton Strategies
Tel: 6390 3327 / 9010 9719

Ms Elyssa Chua
National Library Board
Tel: 6718 3302 / 9118 1602