Be accurate in describing S'pore's history

Singapore recently celebrated 50 years of independence, and is now remembering the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Imperial Japanese forces.

In two years' time, we shall, presumably, be casting our minds back 200 years to the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles and the founding of the modern city of Singapore.

When we do so, I hope that publicity statements and promotions will be carefully worded.

It is not uncommon to see inaccuracies appearing in the media and other materials.

For example, Little India has been touted as having a history of more than 200 years.

However, Raffles arrived only at the end of January 1819, and the precinct certainly did not exist then - nearly 200 years old maybe, but not "more than 200 years old".

Another instance is the description of Singapore in 1819 as being an "idyllic fishing village".

Kings may well have lived at Fort Canning Park, but what evidence is there of a "palatial resort" at the top of the hill?

Statements with wordings such as these may be misunderstood and treated as facts.

In this way, opinions or mistakes can be repeated and a false understanding of what in fact existed or happened could take hold.

This is a strange description of a collection of attap huts inhabited by part-time pirates on a muddy riverbank among the mangroves. In fact, a chronicler of that period, Munshi Abdullah, describes the beach then as being covered with human bones and skulls of the pirates' victims, which Major-General William Farquhar had to get gathered up and disposed of at sea.

Just this week, Fort Canning Park was said to have been the "palatial resort of former Majapahit kings" ("'Inspiring view' for Founders' Memorial at Bay East Garden"; Feb 14). The information was picked up from the National Library Board's website.

Kings may well have lived there, but what evidence is there of a "palatial resort" at the top of the hill?

Statements with wordings such as these may be misunderstood and treated as facts.

In this way, opinions or mistakes can be repeated and a false understanding of what in fact existed or happened could take hold.

Accurate recording of history is of great use. Distortions can have unfortunate results.

Richard Hale

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2017, with the headline 'Be accurate in describing S'pore's history'. Print Edition | Subscribe