Raffles Stole Singapore

The Spectator
How Raffles stole the jewel of Singapore
Alex Colville
27 January 2018

The true founder of Singapore, the humane and diplomatic William Farquhar, has for centuries been unjustly eclipsed by his bullying, reckless superior

BOOK REVIEW:
William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles’ Shadow
Nadia H. Wright
Entrepot Publishing (Malaysia), pp.258, £27.91
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Accounts of the founding of the British Empire once echoed the pages of Boy’s Own, featuring visionaries, armed with a flag, a faith and a funny hat, arriving in exotic lands untouched by civilisation. Overcoming great odds, they would kick-start the regions’ histories, show the locals the proper way to live and extend the imperial pink on the map a few inches before sailing off into the history books. Cook in Australia, Rhodes in Africa, Clive in India: in the popular imagination, the Empire was built by remarkable men, all by themselves.

Singapore was no exception — and the myth endures to this day. Stamford Raffles continues to dominate its pedestals, revered as the inspired founder who built an international trading enclave from the island swamp at the foot of the Malay peninsula where he disembarked in 1819.

Into this dusty tale Nadia Wright throws a much-needed stick of revisionist dynamite. Raffles is here portrayed as a reckless, inept opportunist, a bully and a hypocrite, who stole the crown from the man actually responsible for building the entrepot. Spare a thought for Raffles’s second-in-command, a tall, gentle Scotsman named William Farquhar.

Most versions place Farquhar at the margins of the story, presenting him as the bumbling, incompetent caretaker of Raffles’s brainchild for the first three years of the territory’s history, wandering around in military uniform with his stick and his dogs. But without him, Wright argues, Singapore would never have survived.

Although some new research has allowed Farquhar a greater role, Wright goes into unprecedented detail in this respect, having sifted through piles of East India Company documents to unearth the truth. Farquhar, it is immediately obvious, was far from incompetent. In his previous post as commandant of Malacca, he had only been expected to oversee this Dutch possession while the Netherlands were occupied by Napoleon. Yet he managed to turn around the Malay state and its capital entirely, creating substantial profits after years of losses.

The great range of merchants who traded there — Arab, Indian, Chinese, Malay and European — affectionately knew him as the ‘Rajah of Malacca’; and news that Farquhar was to run the show in Singapore in the early 1820s gave more than 5,000 of these merchants the confidence to leave their homes in Malacca and risk settling in the fledgling trading post. So concerned were the Dutch, they even blockaded the harbour to prevent a mass exodus.

Farquhar’s secret in both settlements was to cooperate closely with the local population, using his expert knowledge of Malay culture and politics developed over 25 years in the East. He promoted trading relations by networking with the different communities of south-east Asia and often acted as a cultural go-between, explaining to the British why certain actions in Malacca would upset the Malays and suggesting diplomatic alternatives. He did everything possible to make Singapore appeal to local traders, even permitting gambling and opium dens, provided a licence was paid — which ended up funding the Singapore police.

That Farquhar’s role has been neglected for so long is extraordinary. But the more remarkable part of the story is that Singapore exists at all. From the start, Raffles did not inspire confidence. Singapore was considered just one in a long line of failed settlements that he had attempted to found in the South China Sea. His superiors in the East India Company despaired of anything he touched, and refused to back the project. He had caused diplomatic headaches in the past by trying to settle in Dutch territory, and his spell as lieutenant- governor of Java between 1811 and 1816 had haemorrhaged money. To one frustrated colleague he was ‘a man who sets a house on fire, and then runs away’.

When Raffles departed Singapore a few months after his arrival in 1819, he left Farquhar understaffed, underfunded and under-stocked, having issued hopelessly impractical orders to be carried out in his absence. Farquhar was directed to obtain supplies from Raffles’s command post six weeks’ journey away, rather than from another British port only eight days’ distance, whose governor Raffles disliked. That Farquhar managed to build up Singapore from scratch in these conditions is all the more impressive.

But keen to safeguard his legacy, Raffles returned almost four years later and removed Farquhar from his post on exaggerated, misleading and hypocritical charges, about which he kept him in the dark to prevent him organising a defence. These charges, and a later glowing memoir by Raffles’s widow, resulted in the two men swapping roles in the history books. Still dotted across the island are streets, squares, statues, schools, museums, libraries, the famous hotel and even a lighthouse all stamped with the name of Raffles. But there is not a single memorial to William Farquhar.

It is a pity that Wright focuses so narrowly on Farquhar’s desk job, as the glimpses we have of his personal life are intriguing. He soon dispensed with his uniform in favour of looser garments, and his household included a pet leopard, a tame tapir (which would arrive at the dinner table hoping for cake) and even a Malay mistress. Being a keen naturalist, he also commissioned Chinese artists to paint a magnificent series of watercolours, illustrating the fauna and flora of Malacca and Singapore, now preserved as the Willliam Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings.

Clearly, he was a man devoted to the East and fascinated by its ancient, flourishing civilisations. Instead of remaining aloof, he chose to interact with the local population almost to the point of assimilation. This book, not to mention the existence of Singapore itself, is a reminder of how profitable this attitude could be. Going native didn’t always lead to the Heart of Darkness.

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Raffles Stole Singapore

The Imam Issue: A Look at the Singapore Muslim Community

The Online Citizen
The Singapore Muslim Community and the Imam Issue
Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir
6 March 2017

It is well-known that Singapore is a multi-religious society. The 2014 report by Pew named our city-state as the most religiously diverse among the 232 countries studied. What is assumed in this discourse is that all religions are the same and subjected to similar state-society relations.

The fact is, Islam is the most regulated religion in our tiny island and this has been the case for decades. From the appointment of a Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, to the creation of a statutory board called the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) where the Mufti is located, and to the Administration of Muslim Law Act that has regulatory powers over local mosques and madrasahs (Islamic schools), there is no doubt that Islam is given a unique attention by the state.

A stark under-appreciation of this social reality, especially among the non-Muslims, is apparent to me in the decade or so that I have been teaching in our local universities. I have always asked my students, that if all the Churches were made to say the exact same thing for their Sunday service with a text provided by an office of a statutory board, how would the Christian community react? The students could not even begin to imagine this! Will this then breed mistrust among the Christian community? This is but just one issue besieging the Muslim populace in Singapore.

When I had coffee with a top local social scientist of NUS a couple of weeks back, we agreed that Islam is the most hierarchical and bureaucratized religion in Singapore. Failure to understand how Islam is managed leads to a failure in understanding the reaction of its local adherents.

This distrust of the Muslim religious elites amidst the disciplining of Islam, from prescribed texts for the weekly Friday prayer sermons, to appointed instructors to “upgrade Islam” through the Asatizah Recognition Scheme that makes it mandatory for every religious teacher to be registered (even those teaching Qur’anic reading in the local neighbourhoods), impact heavily on the religious elites. Many scholars have called this age as one characterised by a crisis of religious authority. The situation can be especially dire in our local Muslim community, given the unique structures bearing upon them.

Distrust breeds distrust. It is not that Singaporean Muslims are predisposed towards being rude or as the Minister of Law put it, “kurang ajar”, towards the state-endorsed religious authority. It is the structures that have been put in place that create such an environment.

The recent issue regarding the police report made against an Imam for making alleged “incendiary” supplications against Christians and Jews that are outside the MUIS-endorsed text cannot be disentangled from the issue of the autonomy of the Muslim clerics. I have engaged the local religious elites numerous times over the last few years and have rarely met a group that is more in fear. The culture of fear among the religious class is often talked about and in one of the engagements that I had with a group of religious elites, one of them candidly lamented, “We are directed and scripted.”

It has often been mentioned that attitude reflects leadership. The angry reaction of the Muslim community in light of the Imam issue should be seen against this backdrop. The absence of the voices of the religious elites in the initial stages of the debacle created a void in the community who then went online to make sense of the matter.

Last week, Assoc Prof Khairudin Aljunied was singled out in parliament for encouraging the “vilification” of the whistle-blower, Terence Nunis. The fact is that hundreds of Muslims had begun pitching in their views on various platforms after Nunis’ pronouncements on Facebook. This was substantiated in a belated statement by the Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, Assoc Prof Yaacob Ibrahim, who mentioned that the video uploaded by Nunis had indeed “sparked a storm” and “generated many emotions both online and offline. Many in our community felt angry, because they believe that the postings could be used to cast aspersions on Islam and the asatizah in our Mosques”.

It is interesting to note that both Assoc Prof Khairudin and the Mufti appropriated a satirical and poetic style respectively, as means of social critique. However, it has been well-documented that the Singaporean brand of criticism is often manifested through humour, satire and poetics as seen in Talkingcock, Mr Brown, Yawning Bread, Jack Neo’s films and the like. Indirect criticism is characteristic of societies living under soft-authoritarian rule.

There are no differences in opinion that if the allegations against the Imam are proven to be true, his incitement has no place in our multi-religious society. But if it is not – and many among the Muslim community have come to this conclusion upon the explanations provided by numerous local religious scholars who have later gone public in discussing the meaning and context of the supplication – then sadly, the Muslim community will see this as yet another example of disciplining and an attempt to emasculate the local religious fraternity despite the state’s paradoxical pleas for Singaporean Muslims to give the local religious scholars their ears.

It remains to be seen in the aftermath of the Imam episode if the state would choose to go down the path of imposing further restrictions to ensure that the MUIS-endorsed texts be read to the letter, curtailing any creative license of preachers and punishing any dissent towards state-appointed authority. The more enlightened way must be to empower the religious scholars in the field and to give them ownership over their areas of expertise to prevent religious discourse from being co-opted, hijacked and subjected to ad hominem attacks.

The coming forward of a good number of religious elites, including its umbrella body, Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS), with regard to this Imam issue is a good development that needs to be applauded. The social media provides a ready platform for this. These attempts to speak truth to power should also be captured in the mainstream media. PERGAS’ need to again clarify their position after feeling that they were misrepresented in the Malay mainstream media regarding their statement towards Assoc Prof Khairudin is not a good sign. The perception that the Malay mainstream media is not balanced and selective in their reporting has also led many to turn to the cyber-sphere to air their perspectives.

In fostering this development of active citizenship, we need to keep an eye on encouraging diversity and not just promoting those with a certain kind of thinking that the state can easily manage. This is in line with what the PM had recently mentioned in his interview on February 24th in Today newspaper under the title, “Leaders must be able to take criticism, acknowledge mistakes”. Only then can we move forward as a nation.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

The Imam Issue: A Look at the Singapore Muslim Community

Singaporean English is Almost Impossible to Pick Up

Atlas Obscura
Singaporean English is Almost Impossible to Pick Up
Urvija Banerji
2 May 2016

Wah lao! Why can’t I speak Singlish?


The Merlion is a famous statue and symbol of Singapore. “To merlion” in Singlish means to puke everywhere. (Photo: WolfgangSladkowski/CC BY 3.0)

“Two dollar onny, dis one,” a street vendor might say to you in Singapore. A local might reply, “Wah! So espensive one, cannot leh.”

While this might sound like broken English, it is an example of Singlish, the highly complicated English creole spoken in Singapore. Its staccato, off-grammar patois is the subject of much bemusement for visitors to the country, and it’s almost impossible for outsiders to imitate.

“Singlish is easy to learn, but hard to execute,” says Sai Pogaru, who moved to Singapore in 2001 and is now a citizen. “There is a certain flair to the language/accent. It actually requires lots of practice to sound authentic.”

Singlish is not just one creole: it’s an amalgamation of many different Southeast Asian dialects and pidgins all rolled up into one.

Singlish comes from the mixing of Singapore’s four official languages: English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. English, now the lingua franca, was brought over by the British during Singapore’s period of colonization, which lasted from 1819 to 1963. Following its introduction into Singaporean schools, English began to permeate the streets outside them, and was picked up by the Malay, Chinese and Indian populations. After independence, the newly formed Singaporean government made the decision to continue teaching in English after identifying that there was a need for a common language in the country.

Many British expatriates moved back to England after Singapore’s independence. In the unregulated environment following their departure, the English spoken in Singapore became substantially influenced by Malay—the native language—and the other languages brought over by immigrants: Tamil and the Chinese Mandarin and Hokkien dialects.

The grammar of Singaporean English began to mirror the grammar of these languages. For example, a modern-day Singaporean could say “I go bus-stop wait for you,” to mean that he will wait for you at the bus stop. This phrase could be translated into either Malay or Chinese without having to change the grammatical structure of the sentence. Those unfamiliar with the grammatical structure of these languages, as a result, have a hard time picking up Singlish.

Words from the other languages became appropriated into the creole as well, creating an entire Singlish lexicon that is used today. The word “ang moh,” for example, is a Hokkien word which literally translates to “red hair,” but is used in Singlish to describe people of Caucasian descent. The Malay word “makan” is commonly used to mean food, or the act of eating. The Tamil word “goondu,” which means “fat” in its original language, is used in Singlish to describe a person who is not very smart.


An advertisement written in Singlish on the Singaporean island of Pulau Ubin. (Photo: Michael Elleray/CC BY 2.0)

Perhaps the most famous Singlish word is the ubiquitous “lah,” an example of the language’s more playful sensibilities. It is essentially a filler word with no meaning. “Lah” can be placed anywhere in a sentence, but is often used as a form of audible punctuation at the end. Another popular exclamation is “wah lao,” or the even more flamboyant “wah lao eh,” used to express surprise or wonder.

One of the many barriers to picking up Singlish is its complicated intonation. English is a stress-timed language, which means that some syllables are longer, and others are shorter. Singlish, however, is syllable-timed, which means that each syllable is pronounced for an equal amount of time, making Singlish far more staccato in nature.

Where it gets even more complicated is in the tones. English is a non-tonal language, which means that words do not have particular tones associated with them. Chinese, on the other hand, is a tonal language, in which words change their meaning depending on the tone used to speak them. Singlish retains all the tones of the Chinese words that it borrows, but maintains no tones in its English, Malay and Tamil words, making it a semi-tonal language.

There’s more. Though Singlish is prevalent all over Singapore, it operates on a spectrum dependent upon the circumstances, making it even harder to trace down. In formal settings, for example, Singlish tends to be toned down to its acrolectal form: Singlish words and grammatical structures are eliminated, and only the accent remains. In the day-to-day, however, a more colloquial form of Singlish is used.


A warning sign in Singapore written in the country’s four official languages: English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay. (Photo: Gabbe/Public Domain)

Pogaru, who moved to Singapore with his family at the age of eight, explains that his ability to speak Singlish only came when he joined the Singapore Armed Forces at the age of 18. “Singlish to me was just an accent with a “lah” thrown in at the end of a sentence,” he says of his opinion of the creole before joining the army. “I didn’t think much of it.”

His experience with Singlish drastically changed in his first year of National Service, the two-year period of compulsory service required of all male citizens of Singapore. “I vividly remember an incident in Basic Military Training where my sergeant told my platoon, ‘You all have 15 minutes. Go up and lepak [relax],’” says Pogaru. He spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out what “lepak” meant and what exactly the sergeant wanted. “Singlish was the language of communication in NS, and I realized that I would have to learn some new vocabulary to truly understand what was happening.”

Though Pogaru has worked hard to increase his understanding of Singlish over the years since his time in the army, he’s not quite sure he has it down yet. “Despite knowing Singlish, I still have not been able to impress my Singaporean friends with my attempts to sound local,” he says. “Guess I just have to keep practicing.”

Singaporean English is Almost Impossible to Pick Up