Did you click because of Singa? Yea, I found him 🙂 Read till the end.
Most buildings on this red dot were converted to serve their present purpose, not the national museum. Opened in 1887, the National Museum was purpose-built for this. It’s history actually goes back to 1849 as a section of the Singapore Institution (Raffles Institution today, see the Central Library Post).
Like most museum’s this one is supposed to be haunted. Not like Casper the Friendly Ghost, but Night of the Living Dead.
It’s still probably haunted though.
Prior to independece, the musuem was a repository of artefacts from all over Southeast Asia and the greater Asian region, similar to what you see with the British Museum in the UK. But with independence and a young government striving for nationhood, the museum was converted to focus on Singapore history and society.
Now, up till about 8 years ago, no one went to the Museum, that was until it underwent refurbishment in 2006 and now looks more than cool. The chandeliers are actually swing-able, imagine the horry story setting…. muahahaha.
I think history is cool, and this museum does bring history to life. Maybe it’s just me, because many people don’t enjoy history. Still, we do need to have a sense of history to realise how history repeats itself, both in our lives and in world events. Random rambling.
Anyway, what can you see in the museum?
The main show is the Singapore History Gallery. Now this gallery takes up the whole basement level, and covers Singapore’s discovery from the 10th Century all the way to post Independence (the Swinging 60s). You get a handheld device that brings you around the whole place.
Here’s a view from the basement looking up.
We start with the Singapore Stone. This stone was dated to belong within the 10th to the 14th century and contains an inscription, but no one seems to be able to decipher the description. Conspiracy theorist anyone? I mean if the people could slam the Mayan Calender and Christian Apocalyse together, what about Asian prophecies 😉
Another treasure is this Gold Ornament from the Forbidden Hill, also known as Bukit Larangan, also known as Fort Canning Hill. Fort Canning is situated just behind the National Museum, and used to be the home of the six Sultans in Singapore. Today, it is the resting place of a former Sultan Iskandar Shah. This gold ornament was from the Majapahit Empire and Singapore was controlled from the hill.
Once we get to 1819, things start to diverge. There is an events trail and a persons trail. The person’s trail tells of the lives of the people at different times, while the events trail tells of the major events. Its a small musuem, so you can actually do both in maybe a couple of hours.
Singapore used to be known as Singalore. We were the hotspot for vice in the region. Triads, gambling, opium smoking, prostitution, cock fighting you name it Singapore had it. This became rampant after William Farqhuar took over to control of Singapore from Stamford Raffles. Farqhuar enjoyed the local culture, nature and women and didn’t see a problem with any of this.
The Chinese were the main culprits at that time. Here is a picture of an opium chair, where rich, decadent opium junkies would recline on and smoke. Recall, this was the time of the Opium War also, so there was a huge addiction problem at all levels of society.
Most of Singapore’s early migrants were Chinese. A small minority came as traders and merchants, a majority came as coolies and rickshaw drivers. These people left China for a better life to escape the problems then (collapsing Qing Empire, lack of jobs, more and more oppressive government). The Indians came as government officials with the British and served as policemen and civil servants. The Malay’s came even earlier, hence they are recognised as having a special position in the Singapore constitution. Because of muslim naming convention, most non-Malays may be suprised to find out that there is a mix of ethnic groups within the Malay-Muslim community. The majority of Malays in SIngapore are ethnically Malay followed by Javanese and Boyanese. There is an almost invisible Bugis population and in recent years a larger Arab population.
There was only around 1 women for 1000 single, sexually fertile men, and so in the 1800s, there were many Japanese prostitutes who came to Singapore. There is one exhibition there, a young girl who’s 13 year old photo was used to register her as a sex worker but because the items are real possesions, I thought better against being taking pictures.
As time passed, people began to settle down and steps were taken to set up a proper society. Still familes started, and children had to be schooled. This was a real table from the old SCGS, there is also a report card. Education for girls was initially frowned upon because patriarchial Asian society thought that it would make them lousy wives, so schools had to adapt and also teach girls weaving and all.
Asian men, then and today tended to marry down the argument went, hence a highly educated woman was by attractive because she was intimidating. I don’t know about you, but I like smart woman.
You can also go to the Raffles Institution Archives and see a larger real display of school conditions in the past , if that is what fascinates you.
There is also a huge Funeral Harse and a Coffin Cover. Here’s the thing, it was actually used. The hearse was used for the late community leader Tan Jiak Kim, and it was the old Chinese version that was huge and imposing. There was a coffin cover that had Chinese motifs and beasts and deities, which was also used before. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pantang even as a researcher, so you go see it for yourself.
Here is an display from World War 2, I’m suprised we don’t have more here, although there isn’t really a need, there are other sites around Singapore on this, such as the Fort Canning Bunker, Sentosa Bunker, War Memorial at Kranji, Changi Chapel, Ford Factory. You get the drift.
There are also some other Galleries, such as the Natural History Gallery (did you know: the common Koel bird in Singapore was apparentl very rare during Farqhuar’s time), a film and wayang gallery (I watched a show called Lion City, 1960), a photography gallery, a food gallery and a fashion gallery.
I’ve just realised that retro is in with female fashion, or so it seems. The Fashion gallery clothes look old, but doesn’t make you go wow I’ve never seen that before… Hmm…
I FOUND SINGA. He resigned , he says Singaporeans are angry and emotionless – no lah, its hot. Give me aircon on the streets, I WILL BE SO HAPPY!
He’s sitting there outside the museum. I wanted to go comfort him, but too hot lah, I leave the museum face become emotionless also. See lah, Singapore Kindness Movement, not a good employer of Singa, not kind, never give him air-con. Tsk Tsk 😛
Actually maybe can employ Water Wally. The people dancing the shower dance like very happy like that, but not very clean… one mascot two jobs, Cheaper, Better, Faster. Can increase productivity also… He can take over Teamy, the productivity bee too!
How to get there
Most museums are now free to Singaporeans and PRs, so check it out. Take a train to Bras Basah Station an exit from SMU.