SINGAPORE: As Singapore commemorates 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles landed on its shores, Singaporeans should also think of how the country can move forward together, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (Jan 28).
“For we are never done building Singapore. It is every generation’s duty to keep on building, for our children, and for our future,” Mr Lee said.
“So that in another 50 or 100 years, Singaporeans not yet born will have a richer and greater Singapore Story to tell, and one that we will have helped to write together.”
Mr Lee said this at the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial where he toured the exhibits from i Light Singapore, the Light to Night Festival and try out BALIKSG, an app for an augmented-reality trail that lets users revisit historical events.
While the bicentennial commemorates 200 years since Raffles came to Singapore, Singapore’s history goes back hundreds of years before his arrival, Mr Lee said.
In the 14th century, the area right at the mouth of the Singapore River was a thriving seaport called Temasek. Around this period, Sang Nila Utama founded Singapura as a kingdom, Mr Lee added.
In the 16th and 17th century, the Europeans came to Southeast Asia and Singapore almost became a Spanish colony, Mr Lee said.
“It took another 200 years before Raffles landed at a spot near here, and persuaded the Sultan of Johor to allow the British East India Company to establish a trading post in Singapore,” he said.
This became a “crucial turning point” in Singapore’s history and set Singapore on a trajectory leading to where it is today - a modern, outward-looking and multicultural society, he said.
When Raffles made Singapore a free port, the colony prospered and grew rapidly, attracting immigrants from Southeast Asia, China, India and beyond, Mr Lee said.
“Trade was our life blood. It linked us to the archipelago around us, and to the world beyond.”
Mr Lee added that the impact of important historical events such as the Singapore and Malaysia merger in 1963 and eventual separation in 1965 was also influenced by the British’s arrival in 1819.
“Throughout the colonial period, Singapore was never governed as part of Malaya. … Over the next 150 years, our political values, inter-communal relations, and worldviews had diverged from the society on the other side of the Causeway,” Mr Lee said.
“At the same time, this history since 1819 explains why after separation, Singapore not only survived but thrived,” he added.
Hence, Mr Lee said, the Singapore Bicentennial is “worth commemorating”. It is not just remembering Raffles or Singapore’s first Resident, William Farquhar, but tracing and reflecting upon Singapore’s longer history before 1965, he said.
“Without 1819, we may never have launched on the path to nationhood as we know it today. Without 1819, we would not have 1965, and we would certainly not have celebrated the success of SG50,” Mr Lee said.
After his speech, Mr Lee launched the festivities together with the youngest participant in the Singapore Bicentennial - St Anthony's Canossian Primary pupil Kayla Choy, who is 11.
Mr Lee also saw two bridges along the Singapore River that were lit up with light installations - Cavenagh Bridge and Anderson Bridge.
Several historical buildings in the Civic District were transformed with seven “art skins” projected onto the buildings as part of the Light to Night Festival by artists Brandon Tay and Safuan Johari.
For instance, “Intersections” at the Asian Civilisation Museum charts the journey of different cultures as they come together and converge at the Little Red Dot, a specific spot where Singapore’s map coordinates were first drafted.
Historical characters, such as the coolies and the Chettiars, first British resident William Farquhar and national anthem composer Zubir Said, were also featured as part of the projection artworks.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who is overseeing the bicentennial commemoration, hopes that Singaporeans will take the opportunity to understand Singapore's history.
"I think it's fascinating to understand that although Raffles arrived in 1819, so did many other people. Together, they brought their cultures and customs. Although they first landed in Singapore, what they wanted to do was to make a living. Later on, they built communities and they shaped the development of Singapore to what it is today," Mrs Teo.
"For younger Singaporeans, we hope that it will inspire us to understand our history that the story of Singapore was written together by many communities and that is also how we will continue to write the story of Singapore."
YOUNGEST AND OLDEST PARTICIPANTS
Apart from being a light bearer and the chosen participant to kick-start the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial, Kayla's school has prepared a time capsule and she contributed an essay.
"I wrote about ... being a head prefect and how Singapore relates to me," Kayla said.
"I have learned that we should always never give up ... When I read about the bicentennial, I did not know all the troubles Singapore had to face to come to what we are today. It's a long journey for Singapore. I'm really proud for Singapore."
Seventy-three years her senior, 84-year-old Dr S Thinnappan of the Chettiars' Temple Society is the oldest participant.
An expert in Tamil language, and the Chettiar community's history in Singapore, Dr Thinnappan is contributing his knowledge in a three-part video series.
The first Chettiars arrived in Singapore in the 1830s, and were in the money-lending business along Market Street, he said. There are currently about 1,000 Chettiar families.
"They are all professionals. They are no longer in the money-lending business. They have contributed in various ways in economic development, business, commerce, education, development of Tamil language, law, politics, medicine. In this way, their contributions can be considered as important contributions to the development of modern Singapore," Dr Thinnappan said.
"The bicentennial is a record of events which will provide Singaporeans with pride about the past history of 700 years," Dr Thinnappan said.
There are activities and events planned throughout the year as part of the Bicentennial to explore Singapore’s history before 1965.