New heritage walk with a tale of a heroic Javanese princess

Retiree Zainal Angus at the hut where he tends the tomb of Radin Mas Ayu - a Javanese princess who was killed while trying to shield her father, according to folklore.
Retiree Zainal Angus at the hut where he tends the tomb of Radin Mas Ayu - a Javanese princess who was killed while trying to shield her father, according to folklore.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

At dusk each day, 69-year-old retiree Zainal Angus lights his oil lamp at the hut where he tends the tomb of Radin Mas Ayu - a Javanese princess who, according to folklore, was knifed in the heart while trying to shield her father during a family feud.

"I love this shrine more than my house - I don't even mop my own house sometimes," laughs Mr Zainal, the sole volunteer caretaker of Keramat Radin Mas, which, despite the glow of his oil lamp, remains shrouded in darkness from the road below.

The memorial, on the slopes of Mount Faber, is one of the stops on a new walk launched by My Community, a non-profit organisation which promotes Singapore's history.

The four-hour My Telok Blangah Heritage Tour is its ninth free guided walk, following others in areas such as Tiong Bahru, Holland Village and Redhill.

The 3.6km trail is described as " a walk through 700 years of Singapore" and takes in eight sites, including a Sikh temple, the Royal Johor Mausoleum and cemeteries such as the Marang Graves and Tanah Kubor Raja.

The story of Keramat Radin Mas is one of the most fascinating, not least for its recent history - in which Mr Zainal plays a major part.

Two decades ago, the tomb was enclosed by a hut strewn with litter and overgrown with bushes and weeds.

In late 1999, Mr Zainal decided to clean up the place to give Radin Mas Ayu the recognition she deserves.

With permission from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), he cleaned and repaired the hut with his own retirement money.

 
 
 

"A Chinese friend helped fix the floor, for free," he recalled, speaking of how the community pulled together to help him. "The staircase was fixed by a Hindu man. I got the railings from a construction site nearby and fixed them together myself, so people can hold onto them while climbing up the stairs."

Mr Zainal visits the memorial every day to clean it and welcomes visitors with the tale of Radin Mas Ayu.

The first My Telok Blangah Heritage Tour will take place on Saturday and all its 50 places are already booked, while following walks are fully taken up until September.

To register for a future walk, visit: www.mycommunity.eventbrite.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2019, with the headline 'New heritage walk with a tale of a heroic Javanese princess'. Print Edition | Subscribe