Four Singapore pioneers join Raffles in bicentennial project

Erected overnight on Thursday (Jan 3), four statues can be seen along the Singapore River next to the iconic one of Sir Stamford Raffles. Watch them being unveiled.
Above: A team from Hong Hai Environmental Art unwrapping the statue of Munshi Abdullah. The four new statues were officially unveiled yesterday. Left: Restoration work being done on the statue of Raffles.
Above: A team from Hong Hai Environmental Art unwrapping the statue of Munshi Abdullah. The four new statues were officially unveiled yesterday. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Above: A team from Hong Hai Environmental Art unwrapping the statue of Munshi Abdullah. The four new statues were officially unveiled yesterday. Left: Restoration work being done on the statue of Raffles.
Above: Restoration work being done on the statue of Raffles.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Statues of Sang Nila Utama, Tan Tock Seng, Munshi Abdullah and Naraina Pillai erected

Having stood alone since 1969, the iconic statue of Stamford Raffles by the Singapore River now has four new companions to present a more holistic picture of the island's history.

The statues of Sang Nila Utama, Tan Tock Seng, Munshi Abdullah and Naraina Pillai were installed on Thursday in a project commissioned by the Singapore Bicentennial Office. They were officially unveiled yesterday.

The new statues are made of fibreglass and perched on plinths. They centre on the theme of a cast of characters from diverse backgrounds arriving in Singapore to build a nation.

Apart from Sang Nila Utama, the Palembang prince who first saw a vision of a lion and established the kingdom of Singapura in 1299, Tan, Munshi and Naraina were among the first settlers to arrive here in 1819.

Tan Tock Seng was a merchant, philanthropist and community leader who contributed to starting a hospital that was named after him.

Munshi was Raffles' secretary, interpreter and Malay tutor who documented aspects of Singapore life after Raffles landed and is regarded as the founder of modern Malay literature.

Naraina was chief clerk at the treasury and a local leader of the Indian community.

It took a team from Hong Hai Environmental Art, including artist Teng Kai Wei, 32, four months to conceptualise and fabricate the fibreglass statues, which will be moved to different sites along the Singapore River from Wednesday.

CONTRIBUTIONS OF MANY

The four statues represent only a fraction of the huge cast of characters who contributed to the evolution of Singapore in our longer history of 700 years.

MR GENE TAN, executive director of the Singapore Bicentennial Office. 

The Bicentennial Office said the statues "were fabricated to last for only one year" and will be removed by the end of the year. It declined to reveal the project's budget.

The statues follow the art event on Dec 29 where the white, polymarble Raffles statue was half covered in dark grey paint to create an optical illusion that it had blended into the buildings in the Central Business District. On Wednesday, the Singapore Bicentennial Office revealed the effect was created with outdoor acrylic paint in collaboration with Mr Teng.

On Dec 7 last year, the Singapore Tourism Board had issued a notice that the Raffles' statue would be undergoing maintenance works and hoarded up from Dec 10 to 28.

Organisers of the bicentennial have said that although the year-long calendar of activities commemorates 200 years since Raffles' landing, it is also an occasion to mark the contributions of a range of pioneers and early settlers, as well as to recognise Singapore's much longer history as a settlement that dates back more than 700 years.

Mr Gene Tan, executive director of the Singapore Bicentennial Office, said that while most might associate the bicentennial with only the British and 1819, the four additional statues clearly articulate the approach they are taking for the year-long effort. He said: "1819 is an important point in our history, but before and after the British also came many people and communities. Even the four statues represent only a fraction of the huge cast of characters who contributed to the evolution of Singapore in our longer history of 700 years."

 
 

Reactions online to the unveiling ranged from excitement at the expanded cast of characters to criticism on why significant individuals such as local chieftain Temenggong Abdul Rahman and William Farquhar, the first British resident and commandant of Singapore who turned Raffles' vision for the island into reality, were excluded.

To this, the Bicentennial Office said on its Facebook page that other significant characters in Singapore's history will be spotlighted throughout the year.

Mr Kwa Chong Guan, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, noted that different groups of men and women came to Singapore through trading networks, similar to other port cities such as Melaka in the 15th century and Venice in the 16th century. These people contributed to its success as a port city.

In 19th century Singapore, the traditional networks of trade involved Bugis, Malay, Arab and Indian traders as well as Fujian merchants and Europeans, he noted.

Associate Professor Hadijah Rahmat, head of Asian languages and cultures at the National Institute of Education, said Singapore was not built by a single visionary man but by "a multiracial, multi-cultural, multi-religious people with richly diverse backgrounds and their human strengths".

SEE FORUM: Raffles' arrival did not mark founding of modern S'pore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2019, with the headline 'Four S'pore pioneers join Raffles in bicentennial project'. Print Edition | Subscribe