09 August 2008

How Singapore Got Its Name

Since today is our National Day, it is appropriate to blog about our country.

The following passage about the origin of our country's name is extracted from a Wikipedia entry on the Asiatic Lion:
"The island nation of Singapore (Singapura) derives its name from the Malay words singa (lion) and pura (city), which in turn is from the Sanskrit िंसह siṃha and पुर pura. According to the Malay Annals, this name was given by a 14th century Sumatran Malay prince named Sang Nila Utama, who, on alighting the island after a thunderstorm, spotted an auspicious beast on shore that his chief minister identified as a lion (Asiatic Lion). Recent studies of Singapore indicate that lions have never lived there, and the beast seen by Sang Nila Utama was likely a tiger."
Indeed, in the movie Saint Jack which I blogged about in my last post, the lead actor Jack Flowers (played by Ben Gazzara) was heard telling his friend William Leigh (played by Denholm Elliot) a similar story about the Lion City. Jack ended the story with the following statements: "The dummy couldn't tell a tiger from a lion. So what can you expect? A place that got started like that?"

My reply to Jack would be: "Well we didn't expect a lot but our country has certainly come a long way from where we started. Luckily we didn't call our country "Tiger City". If we had, it might have been added to the long list of outstanding contentious issues that we have yet to iron out with our nearest neighbour. (In case you didn't know, its national symbol is the tiger.)

Nowadays, even our primary school children know the difference between a tiger and a lion. However, when asked questions about our history and our national flag, some of them gave rather amusing answers. (The following questions and answers appeared in the Jul/Aug 08 issue of the Spring magazine which is published by the Northeast CDC. Portions enclosed within [ ] are my own tongue-in-cheek comments.)

Q: Why is Singapore called Singapore?

A1: Because Sir Stamford Raffles named it that way.
A2: Because there was this man from somewhere and he came and he named Singapore "Singapore".

Q: Who is Sang Nila Utama?
A: I think he is the man who escaped prison.
[Hello, I know it's a hot topic but does his name sound anything like "Mas Selamat"? There's a difference between a prince and a prisoner, ok? Is it really harder to tell them apart than for a tiger and a lion?]

Q: Why is Sir Stamford Raffles considered Singapore's founding father?

A1: Because he found Singapore.
A2: Because he liked to travel from country to country.
A3: Because he is a European man.

Q: Why is the National Flag red and white, with five stars and one crescent?

A1: Because they represent something.
A2: Because red is for good luck. There are five stars for five working days. And because the cresent looks like a banana.
A3: The five stars represent the five races.
[Hey, "foreigners" is not considered a race, hor?]

Alright, I understand that children can get away with almost any thing and that they, unlike adults and princes, should be quickly and easily forgiven.

For the record, the right answer for the last question is:

Red symbolises universal brotherhood and the equality of man, while white signifies purity and virtue. The crescent moon represents the rise of a young nation and the five stars stand for the nation's ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality.

Happy 43rd National Day, Singapore!


pinto said...

Those are some funny answers by the kids. But I suspect your suspicion that lots of adults may not know the answers is probably right. Then, it wouldn't be so funny.

I usually can't remember what the five stars mean. That's probably because what they represent is often not congruent with how Singapore is perceived by its own citizens.

Icemoon said...

I hate to be blunt but the Singapore flag is rojak. It defies all common sense and logic.

First, there is no one to one mapping with the pledge, which I think is fantastic (cheers for Rajaratnam). The keywords in the pledge are "democratic", "justice", "equality", "happiness", "prosperity", "progress". How come there's "peace" on the flag? So students who recite the pledge are penalized because they miss out "peace".

Second, the crescent moon has Islamic connotations. A crescent moon on a flag is international symbol for Islam. I wonder why they change it to mean a young nation rising?

Lastly, the mind works by association. A kid can look at the Indonesia flag and tell you they are related, like the England flag and Union Jack.

Cool Insider said...

Nice work there bringing some meaning to National Day and tying in with Saint Jack, Sang Nila Utama and the Singapore Flag! Hope you had a great national day celebration. I guess it is time to reaffirm again our allegiance to our country of birth.

Victor said...

Pinto - You are right. A lot of people don't know what the symbols on the flag mean and they can't recite our Pledge or sing our National Anthem well too.

Victor said...

Icemoon - The Singapore flag was designed in 1959 while the Pledge was penned only in 1966. Moreover they were created by different people. That probably explains why there's little "one-to-one mapping" between the flag and the Pledge.

Victor said...

Thanks Walter. There is probably more than one reason why the authorities banned Saint Jack initially.

Sathiya said...

//Well we didn't expect a lot but our country has certainly come a long way from where we started.//
It's really amazing to see Singapore's growth and that too without any natural resources available here! It's a great achievement! Definitely it has come a long long way! Happy Birthday to Singapore!!!

Even I didn't know the meaning of the symbols in Singapore Flag. Thanks for the info!

Victor said...

Sathiya - Thanks for that comment, both personally and on behalf of Singapore too. ;)

I gather from your blog that you are probably on a working stint here. I am glad that you like what you see here so far. Singapore certainly owes part of its progress due to the significant contributions by foreign talents like yourself.

SIG said...

I am enjoying your blog. Thanks for the memories of old, not that I am old but it's great to see how much our city has changed over the years. ;)

Victor said...

Welcome to my blog SIG. I see that you have a very nice blog yourself and you make very good popiah and bake as well. :)

Anonymous said...

if i m not mistaken,some ethnic malays in sumatra and java call a tiger ,singo,

Victor said...

Thanks Anonymous. Hmm... I didn't know that. So that's probably how the confusion came about and the prince was right after all.

Patricea Chow-Capodieci said...

I was taught about the symbolism of the Singapore flag in school. Do they not teach these anymore? We had a half hour lesson of Social Studies twice a week in Pri 4 to 6, where we learn abt Spore's history and development, kinda preparing us for history lessons in secondary school.

Victor said...

Patricea - Yes, I remember being taught about our flag too except that in my time, there was no Social Studies but Civics.

I think our school children do learn the meaning of the symbols on our flag but it is hard for them to remember such information when asked about it. Sometimes even adults have difficulty too.

Anonymous said...

You can watch how Singapore got its name on YouTube. See this brickfilm production which tells the story of Sang Nila Utama.