The history & society of Singapore
It was the Chinese who first mentioned Singapore in the 3rd century, describing it as the ‘island at the end of a peninsula’ in reference to its location at the tip of the Malay Peninsula.
It was during the 11th century that its modern-day name came about – a visiting Sri Vijavan prince saw an animal he mistook for a lion and so named the island ‘Singa Pura’ meaning ‘Lion City.
During the 18th century the British decided they would quite like a strategic ‘halfway house’ in order to refit, feed and protect the fleet of their growing empire as well as stall any advances by the Dutch in the region.Singapore evolved into a trading station with the help of Sir Stamford Raffles, and merchants from Asia, the Middle East, and even the USA were attracted by the free trade policy that was in place. Hence immigrants poured in by the thousands. In 1832, Singapore became the center of government for the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore. The country’s importance as the center of expanding trade between East and West increased through the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, along with the advent of the telegraph and steamship.
The site of military action in the 14th century, Singapore became embroiled in the struggled for the Malay Peninsula between Siam (now Thailand), and the Java-based Majapahit Empire. The scene was repeated five centuries later during World War II and in 1942 the Japanese made the island their target. The fall of Singapore was the largest surrender of British-led forces in history. Following the war Singapore became a Crown Colony, self-governing in 1959 and an independent republic in 1965.
Society and Culture
Singapore’s population is made up of roughly 77% Chinese, 14% Malays, 8% Indians and 1% of other descent. While the original inhabitants were Malay fishermen, the establishment of Singapore as a British trading post made the country a magnet for migrants and their families seeking a better life. They came in the thousands from China, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Ceylon and the Middle East.
‘The Raffles Plan’ put together by Sir Stamford Raffles during this period, saw that each race was segregated. While there are still distinct ethnic areas, the policies of the Housing and Development Board of recent times attempt to promote a mix of all races within each housing district in order to foster social cohesion and national loyalty. The racial groups within Singapore have retained their own cultural identities while developing as an integral part of the wider Singapore community.
Singapore’s unique combination of these ethnic groups has given Singapore a rich mixture of diversity for its young age. One of the prime examples is in Singaporean cuisine, often a cultural attraction for tourists.
This diversity means there is also a range of languages spoken. While Malay is the official language most Singaporeans are bi-lingual, speaking English as a first or second language. English became widespead in Singapore after it was implemented as the first language in the eduation system, since then a mixture of words from the Chinese, Malay and Indian languages combined with English has produced ‘Singlish’, spoken commonly on the streets.
A diverse ethnic mix goes hand in hand with a diverse set of religions - Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism are the main ones. You only need to look to the Singapore skyline to appreciate the distinctive minarets of mosques, spires of gothic cathedrals, intricate figurines of Hindu temple gods and distinctive roof architecture of Chinese temples.
*The Small Print
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