In search of the real Singapore stories, beyond Raffles

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Excavations at Fort Canning. Source: Channel NewsAsia 20190203
Excavations at Fort Canning. Source: Channel NewsAsia 20190203

via Channel NewsAsia, 03 Feb 2019: Singapore celebrates its bicentenary this year which has been met with mixed reactions as critics say it is a celebration of colonialism. However, one good thing that has come out of this is an enhanced discussion of Singapore past, e.g. its precolonial period. This article from Channel NewsAsia mentions Prof. John Miksic’s work in Fort Canning Hill, among other stories.

One man who has spent three decades hunting for clues to Singapore’s secrets has found them hidden on a hillside. Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill) – now known as Fort Canning – was once revered as the final resting place of Malay kings.

It is where Professor John N Miksic and his team started excavating in 1984, when “there’d never been an (archaeological) dig anywhere in Singapore”. They discovered 14th-century artefacts and a wealth of evidence of a flourishing society.

Source: In search of the real Singapore stories, beyond Raffles – Channel NewsAsia

[Video] Becoming Singapore

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Becoming Singapore on Channel NewsAsia

Singapore is celebrating its bicentenary this year, and this documentary by Channel NewsAsia explores aspects of Singapore’s past, including archaeology. Link to the video below.

Eunice Olsen explores Singapore’s – and her own – forgotten past. Tracing back hundreds of years, this is an insightful and emotional journey into the faded histories of our ancestors.

Over two episodes, the series takes us on an evocative journey through Singapore’s landscapes to meet a variety of people with rich and diverse stories to tell. The series reflects that there’s not just one singular Singapore narrative, but a meeting of many tales.

We explore bustling streets, excavation sites, mangrove swamps and lush green parks, galleries and museums teeming with national treasures, in search of fading stories that reveal where we came from and just how far we’ve come. Eunice takes a bold step into understanding her own roots – and discovers far more than she ever expected. How does her own personal family history mirror that of Singapore’s story?

Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/video-on-demand/becoming-singapore/episode-1-11098652

Source: Becoming Singapore – Channel NewsAsia

Digging Fort Canning Park: Refreshed archaeological site, restored gardens to open by June 2019

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Invited archaeologist Dr John N. Miksic (centre) and volunteers working at the Archaeological dig exhibition at Fort Canning Park on Oct 28, 2018. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

via Today, 28 October 2018: The Fort Canning site is being re-excavated and refurbished as part of the Singapore Bicentenary celebrations next year. New finds include Sawankhalok ware from Thailand.

Invited archaeologist Dr John N. Miksic (centre) and volunteers working at the Archaeological dig exhibition at Fort Canning Park on Oct 28, 2018. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

Invited archaeologist Dr John N. Miksic (centre) and volunteers working at the Archaeological dig exhibition at Fort Canning Park on Oct 28, 2018. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

Several new attractions showcasing the rich history of Fort Canning Park will be ready by June next year, breathing fresh life into the 18-hectare site.

Three historical gardens that will be restored will be ready by then, in conjunction with the bicentennial exhibition that will be held at the Fort Canning Centre, said the National Parks Board (NParks) on Sunday (Oct 28).

A 17-year-old exhibition space that features an archaeological dig site will be closed from next month to June next year for improvement works. When it reopens, the space will be renamed Artisan’s Garden as it is believed to be the site of a 14th-century palace workshop.

Source: TODAYonline | Digging Fort Canning Park: Refreshed archaeological site, restored gardens to open by June 2019

Singapore’s rich pre-colonial history to be showcased

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National Museum of Singapore by saiko3p/Shutterstock

via The Straits Times, 22 October 2018: A new exhibition focusing on Singapore’s pre-colonial history from the 17th century (try to wrap your head around that!) will open next year at the National Museum of Singapore. Unfortunately, the linked article is behind a paywall.

National Museum of Singapore by saiko3p/Shutterstock

National Museum of Singapore by saiko3p/Shutterstock

“The National Museum of Singapore will roll out a key exhibition showcasing the country’s rich historical heritage to commemorate the bicentennial next year.

The exhibition – tentatively titled “An Old New World: From the East Indies to the Founding of Singapore, 1600-1819″ – will be staged at the museum’s Stamford Road location in the second half of next year.

Among other things, it aims to shed light on how Singapore was already well connected to the region and world prior to the arrival of the British East India Company.

The National Museum said the exhibition seeks to expand on Singapore’s history by looking at a longer narrative starting from the 1600s, as well as a broader geographical region – the East Indies, of which Singapore was a part.

The East Indies comprises the Malay Peninsula and Indonesian Archipelago, the centre of the spice trade that was highly sought after in Europe. This resulted in the establishment of the East India Company in 1600 and the Dutch Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie in 1602.”

Source: Singapore’s rich pre-colonial history to be showcased, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

Singapore once named as ‘tricky place to stay’

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via Straits Times, 10 October 2018: More behind Singapore’s name, according to old records!

Singapore River. Source: Straits Times

Singapore River. Source: Straits Times

Singapura, as explained by some Portuguese authors in the 16th century, is translated from its original language in Malay into Portuguese as falsa demora, which means the wrong or tricky place to stay.

Meanwhile, the name Barxingapara, which appeared in maps in the early 1500s, can be broken down as follows: “bar” means a kingdom of a coastal region, “xin” means “China” and “gopara” or “gapura” is the word for “gateway”.

Dr Borschberg’s talk is part of the ongoing Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre’s lecture series called 1819 and Before: Singapore’s Pasts, organised in the lead-up to the bicentennial next year. The first lecture in the series took place in July.

Source: Singapore once named as ‘tricky place to stay’, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

[Lecture] Portuguese and Dutch Records for Singapore before 1819

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Readers in Singapore may be interested in this talk tomorrow at ISEAS.

Portuguese and Dutch Records for Singapore before 1819
Date : Tuesday, 9 October 2018
Time : 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Venue : ISEAS Seminar Room 2
About The Lecture
In the mid-1950s, a young lecturer in the history department at the University of Singapore named Ian MacGregor embarked on an ambitious project to research the history of pre-1800 Singapore and Malaya by using Portuguese documents. His findings were published in three articles in the Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society between 1955 and 1957. The untimely death of this researcher ended abruptly what appeared to be a promising trajectory in writing the history of Singapore and the region. For the past two decades, research on the Portuguese and other early European sources touching on the region in the 16th and 17th centuries has intensified and, thanks to modern IT facilities that provide easier access to archival materials worldwide, the question has resurfaced as to what the value of the Portuguese sources might be for identifying important events in Singapore’s pre-modern history. This has become especially important against the backdrop of the ongoing preparations for the Singapore Bicentennial in 2019. This seminar should be seen as a contribution to the historiography of pre-1800 Singapore insofar as it critically engages with the different types of materials at hand, compares them with other period European sources, and reviews some of the different materials that have been published in recent years.

Veteran archaeologist to conduct six-week dig at Fort Canning

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2012 photo of Prof. John Miksic at Fort Canning

via Straits Times, 01 September 2018: Prof. John Miksic is conducting a new excavation of Fort Canning Hill, a significant archaeological site in Singapore at the invitation of the National Parks Board in the lead-up to Singapore’s bicentennial in 2019. Note: Article is behind a paywall, but I found the full text on the NUS Southeast Asian Studies blog.

2012 photo of Prof. John Miksic at Fort Canning

2012 photo of Prof. John Miksic at Fort Canning

The lives of Singapore’s ancient rulers and people who worked in the royal Malay palace at Fort Canning Hill are being probed further by a pair of archaeologists.

Speaking to The Straits Times, veteran archaeologist John Miksic, 71, said he will be co-leading an excavation at the historic Fort Canning Park for six weeks from this weekend with Associate Professor Goh Geok Yian, 46. It will be Professor Miksic’s 13th dig at the park.

The National Parks Board invited Prof Miksic to conduct the dig as part of its overall restoration works at Fort Canning Park. This comes in the lead-up to Singapore’s bicentennial next year. The park will be the venue of the main bicentennial showcase.

The archaeologists will be assisted by a team of students and volunteers as they work in a large 10m by 5m pit near the park’s Spice Garden.

The area, which is also near the Registry of Marriages and the Keramat Iskandar Shah, has been interpreted as a 14th-century palace workshop after an earlier discovery of a “large charcoal feature” where iron tools were likely used.

Archaeologists had also found thousands of glass beads as well as small fragments of gold and clay crucibles at the site.

On the upcoming excavation, Prof Miksic said: “It is a significant site because it has the densest concentration of 14th-century artefacts in undisturbed soil anywhere on Fort Canning. We are likely to find a mixture of Chinese, Malay, South-east Asian, and Indian artefacts. The only question is whether we will find any new kinds of objects which we have not found before.”

The hill was once home to what was likely a large palatial complex dating back to the 14th century. A keramat or shrine was also located there – it was named after the last king of Singapura, Sri Sultan Iskandar Shah. He spent three years as king of Singapura before the island was invaded by the Majapahit empire at the turn of the 15th century. When Singapura fell, Iskandar Shah fled to Johor and eventually founded Melaka.

According to Prof Miksic’s book, Singapore And The Silk Road Of The Sea, 1300-1800, an initial dig at Fort Canning in 1984 ascertained that the hill had been occupied in the 14th century. Pottery made in China during its Yuan dynasty was discovered there.

Next year, a dedicated heritage museum is set to open at the three-storey conserved Fort Canning Centre, and will include artefacts dug up from Prof Miksic’s earlier excavations there.

Archaeologist Lim Chen Sian said: “It’s a very large hill so the excavations conducted there so far are only the tip of the iceberg. There is potential to find more materials from the Temasek period. It would be nice to look back in time in the lead-up to the bicentennial.”

Source: Veteran archaeologist to conduct six-week dig at Fort Canning, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times