We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

When history leaps from textbooks onto our streets and into our lives

6 0 147

Since taking office in Parliament just over a year ago, I've been jogging along the Singapore River whenever I can, familiarising myself with the sights.

Then in January this year, I noticed how the lone statue of Sir Stamford Raffles was joined by four others: Sang Nila Utama, Munshi Abdullah, Naraina Pillai and Tan Tock Seng. Not a moment too soon, I thought, given how the Singapore bicentennial is going into full swing. The event commemorates 200 years since Raffles' arrival in 1819 that kick-started the development of modern Singapore.

The figures of all these pioneers sit just 20 paces from my office window in Parliament House. And they are just 100m shy of an archaeological dig round the corner at Empress Place, where archaeologists have dug up 700-year-old timber planks and pottery shards.

In fact, few may know that our Parliament grounds have also yielded artefacts from China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, with some going back to the 11th century. A few of these sit in a glass case that all our MPs file past on their way into the Parliament chambers.

All around me is a constant reminder of history made, or in the making. And it can be quite moving, imagining how life unfolded through the centuries, around the places I work each day.

Clearly, even before Raffles and the East India Company capitalised on the potential of our little island, our forebears, along with scores of others in the region, also discovered Singapore as a place of refuge or opportunity, and similarly made their way here, whether 700 years ago or even earlier.

While so many passed through our shores, some stayed and made Singapore home, and yet others moved on. And for every encounter made on this island, surely, we have gained from the traded stories, journeys and shared experiences. I like to think that we have survived and flourished because of our openness to the people who came in, transited or remained.


As a former student of history, I do often consider: What if no one saw our potential as a landing point, a site for trade and exchange, a home? What if we hadn't appeared useful, to anyone? What if the economic issues of the time had tripped us up along the way? Or the weight of commerce had shifted and rendered our geopolitical position worthless?

The vagaries of fortune and opportunity could........

© The Straits Times