Everyone knows Singapura means the Lion City. Or does it? At a recent lecture, historian Peter Borschberg said that some 16th century Portuguese writers translated Singapura from Malay into Portuguese as false demora, meaning a wrong or tricky place to stay. The name Barxingapara, which appears in maps in the early 1500s, comprises "bar", meaning kingdom on a coastal region, "xin" meaning China and "gopara" or "gapura" meaning gateway. It is apt that these nuggets from Singapore's deep history were revealed in the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre's lecture series 1819 And Before: Singapore's Pasts, part of the lead-up to the bicentennial next year.
The commemoration of Sir Stamford Raffles' landing here 200 years ago is a good opportunity for Singapore to take a closer look at her ancient history. There have been precious few archaeological digs, but those done at Fort Canning and Empress Place unearthed exciting evidence that this little red dot has been a thriving entrepot centre for half a millennium. The detritus of history - coins, pottery and beads - is well documented in Professor John N. Miksic's 2013 book Singapore And The Silk Road Of The Sea, 1300-1800. The biggest dig at Empress Place in 2015 hit an artefact jackpot, unearthing 14th century Chinese imperial-grade ceramics and 700-year-old timber planks. Such explorations into Singapore's deep history help root this island, reminding Singaporeans that the nation may be young, but its place in history extends beyond the modern era.