Efforts by brothers Loo Geuang Fiyau and Lea Guan Chong to relive their past on Pulau Tekong - part of a series of public talks organised by the National Heritage Board (NHB) to promote the island's heritage - can do much to bring to the fore a receding slice of Singapore's history. This is especially so because Pulau Tekong has been closed to the public since 1987 and is now a permanent military base for training national servicemen. The common notion is that Singapore is a city-state. But that obscures the geographical and historical fact that the country really consists of mainland Singapore and other islands. Capturing the history of Pulau Tekong helps to illustrate that expansive reality and the NHB's initiative is to be applauded. Before land reclamation merged them in the 1990s, Pulau Tekong Kechil was an 89ha island separate from Pulau Tekong Besar. The islands were once home to thousands, with a 1957 census showing they had 4,169 residents consisting of 2,425 Chinese, 1,692 Malays, 44 Indians and Pakistanis, and eight of other races. Those were not insubstantial numbers for those times.
Singaporeans need to remember that their culture is a confluence of many little traditions that have fed into the mainstream over time. Every student knows about Sang Nila Utama, the 13th-century Palembang prince, founding a settlement called Singapura in 1299. No one can forget how the arrival of Stamford Raffles in 1819 transformed the island's Asian past and marked the beginnings of its path into a global future.
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