We want to take advantage of living in Singapore so I have a spreadsheet listing all the things we want to see and do. During the week I prepare the weekend’s itinerary. On Saturday morning we don our walking shoes, grab our public transport cards and set forth.
The Malay Heritage Centre was on last weekend’s itinerary. We have had our serve of British colonial history at other museums. This museum is for those who want to get beyond ‘the founder of Singapore’, Sir Stamford Raffles and his landing in Singapore in 1819. Like any British colony, Singapore has a much longer history, and it wasn’t British.
The building which houses the Malay Heritage Centre was the former istana, or palace, of the Sultan of Johor and Singapore. As the design of the building shows, it was built during colonial times in the nineteenth century.
Visitors are first directed upstairs and enter the map room. As the writing on the wall explains to visitors, maps are not merely pictures conveying facts. They are subjective representations that reveal the attitudes and goals of the creator of the map. A map is a summary and the choices of places to represent and the names to give them reveals much.
At the National Museum of Singapore we had learned how the British and Dutch drew a line through south-east Asia and determined which colonial ruler would govern the two segments. Through this process the British acquired what would become known as Malaya and Singapore.
The map room lifted the colonial veil and gave us a peak into Singapore as experienced by the Malays through history. Through Australian history we know that the history of a place does not start with colonial rule no matter how much traditional histories of the nation may give that impression. I came to the Malay Heritage Centre because I wanted to go beyond the colonial perspective and learn about the greater history.
Through maps visitors learn how Singapore belonged in the region called the Nusantara. The Heritage Centre’s map showed the Nusantara region covered the hundreds of islands in the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagos and islands such as Singapore, Timor, Borneo etc. There were significant trading routes throughout this region and hence strong cultural and political connections.
There was both a regional and a local focus in this room. The Malay Heritage centre is located in the area of Kampong Glam which the British, who were assiduous in their racial classification and ordering of people, designated as a Malay and Muslim quarter. We spent some time viewing a map on a table that had overlays beamed down via a projector demonstrating the changes in urban development in this area over time.
The map room at this Centre is beautifully and effectively presented. The following rooms kept up the standard. I’ll highlight just some of them. Continue reading