Pre-colonial Singapore was thriving island

Mr Toh Cheng Seong's description of Singapore before 1819 does not gel with the facts of history (S'pore was no trading hub before Raffles' arrival, Forum online, Sept 4).

Mr Toh said Singapore was a sleepy fishing village which the British colonists turned into "a cosmopolitan global entrepot with a multicultural population" in 50 years.

But only last month, Assistant Professor Imran Tajudeen, from the National University of Singapore's Department of Architecture, revealed in a lecture that Singapore was already trading and having cultural and technological exchanges with the region before 1819 (Debunking myth of the sleepy fishing village, Aug 1).

Among the early immigrants were Bugis and Makassar traders who came in the early 1800s because they recognised Singapore's viability as an alternative trade port to Riau, Indonesia.

Others followed, including Chinese (from China, Semarang and Riau), Indians, the Babas from Melaka, and Arabs from Palembang, Indonesia). Many were engaged in shipbuilding.

A large multiracial Bugis Town existed, covering the entire eastern bay of Singapore town which included Kampong Glam and the Kallang area.

Pre-colonial Singapore was highly regarded by the Johor-Riau polity and the Straits Malay community. For example, Raja Kechil and his nephew Raja Ismail of Siak (today's Riau) relied on Singapore in the 18th century for the supply of naval vessels, said Prof Imran.

Indeed, Kampong Glam was flourishing when the British colonists landed in 1819, according to the findings of a second archaeological dig in the area conducted in May last year.

So, Singapore was a regional trading hub then. Most certainly, it was no sleepy fishing village.

Anthony Oei