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From Sang Nila Utama to Raffles: Free Telok Blangah tour explores 700 years of Singapore history

From Sang Nila Utama to Raffles: Free Telok Blangah tour explores 700 years of Singapore history

Volunteer guides Mr Sarafian Salleh and Mr Choo Lip Sin introduce the Marang Graves, believed to be owned by Javanese clans. The graves are located in the former Kampong Marang, and the oldest gravestone dates back to 1866. (Photo: Ang Hwee Min)

SINGAPORE: Once home to the orang lauts, infested with pirates and now a modern residential town, Telok Blangah is steeped in Singapore history.

A new, free guided walking tour, called the My Telok Blangah Heritage Tour, will trace Singapore's 700-year maritime history - from a trading emporium founded by Sang Nila Utama in 1299 to a pirate-infested free port established by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, and into a modern city today.

The tour will open to members of the public this Saturday (Jul 20) and run from 8.30am to 12.30pm every third weekend of the month.

Taking in an array of national monuments and historical sites, the tour is one of the nine guided tours developed and organised by non-profit organisation My Community.


During the tour, participants will explore the forested Marang Graves at the foot of Mount Faber, and then take a short walk to the Masjid Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim.

The mosque stands on the former site of a royal reception hall established by Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim, most famous for using the orang lauts - or sea people - under his control to harass small ships that frequented the port. 

READ: Othman Wok: A man whose courage and convictions made a difference to Singapore

People can also visit Keramat Radin Mas, the shrine of Javanese princess Radin Mas Ayu. Legend has it that Radin Mas Ayu shielded her father from being killed, only to be killed herself.

The flight of steps leading up to Keramat Radin Mas was constructed in August 2002, after caretaker Zainal Angus collected contributions from the community totalling $15,000 and hired a contractor. A new hut, fencing, and ceramic tiles were also added to the site. (Photo: Ang Hwee Min)

The eight-stop tour also includes a cemetery, Taoist temple and the Kampong Silat flats, before ending at the Silat Road Sikh Temple, where participants can look forward to a free vegetarian meal and a hot cup of tea. 

President and founder of My Community Kwek Li Yong, 29, said: “Telok Blangah is often overshadowed by its neighbours Sentosa and Pasir Panjang. Most people know it as a small, quiet neighbourhood that’s not very exciting or attractive. 

“But there are a lot of stories about Singapore’s development as a port city, and the sites selected showcase the different and lesser-known sides of Telok Blangah.”

Volunteers will take 50 participants on the tour, which looks at how Singapore developed through centuries into a port city.

Telok Blangah was home to the Temenggongs - chieftains who established communities and a series of kampongs, including Kampong Bahru and Kampong Radin Mas.

The Silat Road Sikh Temple provides free vegetarian food three meals a day to all visitors. The Temple houses the memorial for Indian revolutionary Bhai Maharaj Singh, who came to Singapore in 1850 as a prisoner when it was a penal colony, and typically sees more than 2,000 visitors a day. (Photo: Ang Hwee Min)

The settlement at Telok Blangah appears in the Sejarah Melayu - the Malay Annals. It tells the story of Sang Nila Utama, the prince of Palembang who founded the city of Singapura in 1299.

A section of the story tells how Sang Nila Utama threw his crown into the sea off Telok Blangah to quell a fierce storm.


Mr Sarafian Salleh, 49, who has volunteered with My Community since 2017, said he first chanced upon the Marang Graves when he was researching his own lineage. He met other volunteers while exploring the area and became a volunteer himself. 

Mr Sarafian, who is an engineer, said: “After 12 years of research, I found out my great-grandfather was a ship captain and a Bugis trader. He eventually settled in Singapore.”

He encouraged Singaporeans to come on the tour, adding that people will be able to see some historical sites firsthand. For example, tour participants can enter the Royal Johor Mausoleum, which is typically not open to visitors.

READ: From patrol policeman to royal bodyguard: How a Singaporean came to protect the Johor crown prince

The Telok Blangah tour is fully booked until September, and Mr Kwek is encouraged by the response. The organisation is also seeing an influx of millennial volunteers, with about 75 per cent of volunteers aged 40 and younger. 

As a millennial himself, Mr Kwek believes the younger generation is beginning to see the importance of conserving Singapore's heritage.

“Every community has a story to tell. If you look at the museums, there are many stories about people with power. I believe younger people want to conserve the stories of the common man," he said.

Mr Kwek is unsure whether the historical sites will be affected by the Greater Southern Waterfront redevelopment plans, but he remains hopeful.

READ: URA draft master plan: More housing planned for CBD, Marina Bay area

“I always believe that before we undergo any development, a proper assessment of the cultural significance of the site should be conducted," he added.

“This means it should involve every stakeholder, so that we can make a collective assessment of what is important to us.”

Mr Zainal Angus, caretaker of Keramat Radin Mas, said he is ready to welcome visitors of all ages and nationalities to the shrine. 

Caretaker of Keramat Radin Mas Zainal Angus has been custodian of the shrine for about 20 years. (Photo: Ang Hwee Min)

The 69-year-old volunteer said: “I did this not for me. This is not mine and it doesn't belong to me. This belongs to the public.

"I think I look after this better than I look after my own house. Sometimes I don't even mop the floor at home. When I come here, I do all the cleaning. But I don't feel tired, even though now I have lower back pains."

He rides an electric scooter from his rented home in Telok Blangah to the shrine every day to maintain it, and in August 2002, spearheaded the project to build a new hut around the tomb.

Mr Zainal said two or three individuals have approached him about taking over the role, but none of them have stayed on. Despite his age, he is not worried about finding a successor.

 "I don't know when I can do this until, but as long as I have the energy ... maybe the spirits will choose the next one." 

People who want to register on the tour can go to My Community's eventbrite website

Source: CNA/hw(mi)


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