A history seeped In diversity - origin story

November 26, 2016

Singapore’s story is as rich and interesting as its varied culture and cuisine. Glance at her history and you will find that brave kings, courageous emperors, and powerful colonists have laid claim to her beautiful lands.  

Origin Story

The early origins indicate a town by the sea (Temasek) that witnessed the first settlers who arrived in the 13th Century. The roots of the present-day island nation formed in the 14th Century when the peninsula became a focal point for sea routes. The trading hub buzzed with different dialects as merchants from China, Arabia, and Europe landed at its shores.   

The new island was christened Singapura when a prince from Palembang, Sang Nila Utama, saw an exotic animal he had never encountered. Believing it to be a good omen, the prince named the place ‘The Lion City’, from the Sanskrit words simha (lion) and pura (city).   

The birth of modern Singapore occurred in the 19th Century with the arrival of a seminal figure - Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. 

The Founding Stones

In late January, 1819, a rising political star in the British East India Company was exploring the tip of the Malay peninsula. His mission was to identify a port that would serve as a merchant fleet for the expanding British Empire. When Sir Raffles saw Singapore, an established trading port along the Malacca Strait, the Lieutenant-Governor immediately recognized its potential. Thus began the slow and steady rise of a city-state that would become a major financial power. 

As the 19th Century progressed, so did Singapore. Sir Raffles laid out a clear plan that would serve as a launch pad for the island nation. The city was demarcated along ethnic lines to prevent racial tensions. The focus of the Lieutenant-Governor, however, was to establish financial institutions and commercial institutions. A causeway was constructed that linked the city-state’s northern tip to Johor Bahru. This was the first glimpse of how integral the nation would become to the ASEAN region. 

The Shadow Of War 

Being a part of the Queen’s republic certainly had its perks for Singapore. Its economy was booming, it had an ever-busy harbour front, and all the essential infrastructure had been constructed. The citizens trusted the British Government with their peace and security. Then World War II happened.  

On December 8th, 1941, Japanese forces took the military commanders by surprise as they invaded the island-nation from the north. The Allied forces had the superior numbers, but could not match the tactical intelligence of the Japanese.  A little over two months later, Singapore was surrendered on Chinese New Year, February 15th, 1942.  

The next three years saw economic hardship grip the island as the new rulers imposed military rule. The Chinese population in particular had to suffer because of their efforts in the lost war. This remains one of the darkest periods witnessed by the citizens.  

But Singapore would rise from the ignominy of defeat and chart a course to become an Asian superpower.