Singapore islands you may not have heard of

A scenic view of Pulau Hantu, located to the south of Singapore. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
A scenic view of Pulau Hantu, located to the south of Singapore. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Did you know that Singapore was actually made up of more than 70 islands?

A new exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore will be the first to tell the tales of the isles of long-ago. Launched on Tuesday, the "Balik Pulau: Stories from Singapore's Islands" exhibition will run until Aug 10, from 10am to 6pm daily. Admission is free for the exhibition which is located at the museum's Stamford Gallery, level 1.

We check out some of lesser-known islands:

1. Pulau Seking

Less than a kilometre long, Pulau Sakeng (also spelt "Seking" or "Siking") was among the smallest of Singapore's southern islands.

The island was named after Keng or Yang Meleking, a woman of legend who was said to have battled pirates, healed the sick and founded the island community. A keramat (holy grave) at the foot of the island's hill was believed to have been her tomb.

The first record of its inhabitants was in 1848 by a doctor, Robert Little. These early inhabitants were from the Johore-Riau Archipelago, and were namely Suku Bintan, Orang Selat and Orang Laut.

The community thrived until 1994, when residents were moved to the mainland so that the island could be turned into a landfill.


2. Pulau Semakau

Once known as Mangrove Island, probably for abundance of mangroves that grew on its eastern fringes, Pulau Semakau is, today, a vibrant marine habitat, surrounded by mangroves, seagrass meadows and coral reefs.

The formerly flame-shaped island was known to have been occupied as early as 1844. This was known when about a dozen Chinese smallholders who grew vegetables, raised poultry and made charcoal on "Pulo Simakow" reported being attacked by robbers. By 1955, Pulau Semakau had a population of about 780, most of whom fished for a living and grew coconuts and fruit trees.

Pulau Semakau remained unoccupied between 1976 till 1995, when it was linked to Pulau Sakeng to form Semakau Landfill.The landfill is Singapore's only remaining landfill, costing $610 million, and receiving shipments of over 2,000 tonnes of ash daily, the charred remnants of 93 per cent of Singapore's rubbish, burnt at its four incinerators.


3. Pulau Damar Laut

Located off Jurong, the island now exists as part of Jurong Port. There are currently four container terminals and a cement terminal on it.

Pulau Damar Laut was an idyllic spot once: its palm-fringed coastlines, sleepy Malay kampungs and coral reefs with clear water were recalled vividly by author Julian Davison who came here on countryside excursions with his family in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

It was once the property of Ong Tiang Wee, the son of tycoon Ong Boon Tat, who co-owned New World Amusement Park. New World was one of the first amusement parks in Malaya.

City Square Mall currently stands in its place, with the New World Amusement Park gate refurbished and placed at the entrance.


4. Pulau Serangoon

Located off Punggol Point, the island was owned by the Aw brothers of Haw Par Villa fame.

It changed hands in the 1950s among various entrepreneurs who wanted to develop it into Singapore's version of Coney Island; despite their efforts, only the name has stuck.

The 45ha island located off the Punggol Area. Pulau Serangoon is also a popular place for jet skiing and camping.

Pulau Serangoon, will open to the public next year as part of a "Waterfront Town". There are also plans to build three bridges, linking the island to the mainland.


5. Pulau Hantu

"Hantu" is the Malay word for ghost and Pulau Hantu is aptly named as "island of ghosts". It was here that ancient Malay warriors once dueled to their death and their ghosts are said to remain on the island.

Pulau Hantu is actually made up of two islets: Hantu Besar (Big Ghost) and Hantu Kecil (Little Ghost).

Despite the horror stories, Pulau Hantu is, today, a popular haunt among fishing and snorkeling enthusiasts due to its waters which are rich in colourful corals and varied aquatic organisms.


6. Pulau Satumu

Pulau Satumu, which loosely translates to One Tree Island, houses the Raffles Lighthouse which was built in 1855, making it the second oldest of Singapore's five lighthouses.

The island, about 23km south-west of Singapore, marks the south channel for the sea passage into Singapore. It is out-of-bounds except for the Raffles Lighthouse staff and visitors with special permission.

Raffles Lighthouse is the site of some ongoing scientific research on aspects such as coral spawning and giant clams. It is also a popular spot among diving enthusiasts.


7. Pulau Senang, Pulau Pawai and Pulau Sudong

Pulau Senang is located 24km south of Singapore, in shark-infested waters. In 1960, the island was used in a penal reform experiment. Riots resulted in the death of the Prison Officer Daniel Stanley Dutton (nicknamed "The Laughing Tiger") and three of his assistants.

A typical day for Pulau Pawai begins with a dozen men setting up targets, checking that the area is free of people who may have inadvertently trespassed into the range, and informing airbases that the island is ready for the exercise. The island is pounded almost daily by bombs from screaming aircraft. The place is reserved for the venom of Republic of Singapore Air Force fighter planes.

Pulau Sudong was originally filled with mangrove trees and swamp. It made the headlines in 1960 when geologists raised the alarm that the island was sinking.

The three islands form a part of the Singapore Armed Forces' military training area and live-firing zone. Like other military bases, these three islands are strictly off limits to all civilians.

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