History Of Singapore Before And After 19th Century History Essay

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When it refers to strategic position, it is not only determined by natural location, but also closely related with political, economic, social and military factors. The history of Singapore before and after 19th century is a perfect example to justify this theory. In 1969, then-Raffles Professors of History K.G. Tregonning held that “modern Singapore began in 1819. Nothing that occurred on the island prior to this date has particular relevance to an understanding of the contemporary scene; it is of antiquarian interest only.” [1]This is to say, although Singapore is naturally endowed with the qualities to be a very important strategic place, in fact, it is when Raffles landed on these islands and made them a trading country in 1819.

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Firstly, the textual records on Singapore’s history before the year of 1819 are fragmentary and incomplete. Based on Sejarah Melayu, a Malay seventeenth-century chronicle, it recorded a story that a ruler from Palembang, who was named Sri Tri Buana, built a trading city and called it as Singapura (“Lion City”). It was told that because he caught a sight of a strange creature, which looked like a lion. The tale from Sejarah Melayu is not credible in many aspects. Firstly, the Annal has twenty nine different versions. Secondly, it’s said that Sri Tri Buana is a divine person coming from the sky and landed on a sacred hill in Palembang. [2] Lastly, lions were not seen in Singapore ever before. [3] Sir Richard Winstedt concluded that Sejarah Melayu account of how Temasek was founded by Sri Tri Buana accidentally landing on the island and sighting the fictional lion is a “hotchpotch of Chola and Palembang

[1] K.G. Tregonning (1969). Modern Singapore. The Historical Background. Singapore: University of Singapore Press.

[2] Kwa, C. G. (2009, January 29). How to think about Singapore history.

Presented at a SSA 2211 lecture at National University of Singapore.

[3] Lepoer, B. L. (1989). ed. Singapore: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress. Retrieved February, 14, 2009 from http://countrystudies.us/singapore/3.htm

folklore out of which little can be made. And most historians have been in favor of the 16th century Portuguese accounts. Both these two versions about the history of Singapore are based on the social memories. Therefore, it is not valid to determine which version is more reliable. But one thing is sure and obvious is that Singapore is not so important strategically. Supposing it has a significant strategic position, it should at least have a very clear history. The truth is that the records and notices on Singapore are implicit and incredible.

Secondly, there is no denying that these archaeological excavations by Associate Professor John Miksic and his partners included local earthenware, Chinese coin, and India glass beads. And it at most suggests that Singapore was one of the trading ports in the southeast east and tells us that there was a settlement on Singapore and it was established at the end of the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth-century. [4] However, at that time, Singapore is just one state of Srivijayan. Equally importantly, before the invention of steam power, the trade is connected with the sailing season and sailing junks play a minor role in world trade and coast cities like Singapore were rarely at that time. What is more, before the industrial revolution, China is the biggest economic power and most of its trade was made with East Asia and Europe by the so called “Silk Road”. Therefore, at that time, a port like Singapore which depends on transshipment trade means a little in the strategic sense, and its prosperity and fate is closely related with the world powers.

Thirdly, some scholars, such as G. P. Rouffaer, Ronald Braddell and Brain Colless, have been searching for evidence to prove that Singapore’s strategic significance archaeological evidences suggest that there were any settlement during this long period. According to C. A. Gibson-Hill, the passage through Singapore, either via the Keppel Harbour or the Philips Channel and Main Streets or the Terbau Straits dates back only to the middle 14th century, or at least 50 or 100 years earlier, but definitely

[4] Fort Canning Site 1984 – Present. (n.d.). Retrieved February, 14, 2009 from http://www.seaarchaeology.com/v1/html/sg/fort_canning.html

not beyond that time. [5]This is because the most favourable place to provide services for the traders and shippers who pass through the strait is what is today’s Palembang, which locates up the river of Musi. What’s more, it is not until at the end of 17th century that in the European and Chinese travelogues and navigational charts, the Keppel Harbour Straits was mentioned. And from then on, the Keppel Straits was seldom mentioned and the time when it was discovered as a new channel once again was the year of 1819. This suggests that the Keppel Harbour was not as strategic as some scholars had argued.

Lastly, in terms of politics, world powers like China are mostly mainland country and, equally importantly, have no ambition to control over the Southeast Asia. Although this is no denying the fact that in the period of the Dutch-Portuguese’s rivalry relation, it was very important for Singapore to have control over the waters. [6] Besides this, historian also found out that the European powers, like the Portuguese and Dutch, realized the commercial and strategic significance of the Straits of Singapore and intend to construct a fort or citadel in the region. [7] However, it is also not deniable that both Portuguese and Dutch were not world powers yet and neither of them had the capability to control the world. To put it far, Singapore played certain significance to these two countries and had little impact on other countries in a global sense. What is more, from the year of 1676, Dutch had diverted

it attention from Melaka Straits to Java because of its abundant natural resources, and correspondently loosened its control over Singapore. Therefore, the Singapore before

[5] C. A. Gibson-Hill (1954). Singapore: Old Strait and New Harbour, 1300-1870. Singapore: University of Singapore Press.

[6] Kwa, C. G. (2009, February 12). Sailing Past Singapore: Contests for control of waters around Singapore. Presented at a SSA 2211 lecture at National University of Singapore.

[7] Borschberg, P. (2003). “Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch Plans to Construct a Fort in the Straits of Singapore, ca. 1584-1625,” Archipel, 65.

18th century had never become a strategic position.

Based on the previous analysis, in one word, Singapore is part of the Johor Sultanate. This is justified in the following respect.

Firstly, from the perspective of history, Johor Sultanate was built by Sultan Mahmud’s son and successor, who, in 1530, left Pahang and established a new negara up the Johor River. The reason why he chose the Johor River as his new negera instead of moving to a backwater region is that he needed to get involved with the trade activities of the Melaka Straits. The archaeological evidence-primarily the range and volume of earthen-ware and blue-and-white Ming and Qing export ware sherds-points to the Johor River as a node in the trade of the Melaka Straits from the beginning of 15th century. Since the founding of this new country, Singapore had been under the control with Tengmengong as it real governor. From that time, Singapore is waiting quietly for a dramatic change by a British explorer.

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Secondly, Singapore is a small island with few population and scarce resources. The small island is surrounded by other countries. Gibson-Hill argued: “the Singapore channel became of value when it was possible to cut out jungle-girt ports of western Borneo and Palembang, affluent and powerful, but tediously placed. It became of potential value as soon as trading ports were developed in north Sumatra, and in the region of Junk Seylon. Then an altered rhythm was possible with the break in the voyage no longer at its southern angle, but at the end of the run across the eastern India Ocean.” This shows us Singapore is just integral part of the Johor Sultanate even this region. Singapore’ future was closely connected with the whole region and would have no future if it is separated from whole region. This is supported by Dutch’s diversion its attention from Melaka Straits to Java because of its abundant natural resources, and correspondently loosened its control over Singapore in the year of 1676.

Thirdly, Singapore is part of the Johor Sultanate in terms of politics. According to the Portuguese accounts, the Melaka was founded by a renegade prince who fled to Temasek. And the he found a prosperous settlement and assassinated its ruler to be king. Because of this, he was avenged by Thai. Therefore, he fled to the northwards and founded a fresh trading port on the banks of the Bertam River, which was called Melaka. This accounts exhibits us Singapore was always politically connected with the Johor Sultanate.

Singapore’s modern development has benefited from its natural location on the main trading route which connects the ports in Indian Ocean and those of South China Sea. However, it is not endowed the natural strategic significance. This advantage is offered by human-related factors and this is proved by archaeological evidence, history and some fresh reports and studies. Meanwhile, they also support the argument that Singapore is part of the Johor Sultanate.

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