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History of Singapore

Written accounts of the early history of Singapore are sketchy and the names used to refer to the country are varied.

Early Names

A Chinese account of the third century refers to Singapore as Puluozhong, translating the Malay words Pulau Ujong, ie. "island at the end" of the peninsula. The Javanese Nagarakretagama1 of 1365 identified a settlement called Temasek, ie. "Water Town", on Singapore island. A Chinese trader Wang Dayuan, who visited Singapore around 1330 referred to this settlement as Danmaxi, in reporting that there were also some Chinese found on the island. The Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals has the most colourful and vivid account of how Singapore got its present name. As the story goes, Sang Nila Utama (or Sri Tri Buana as he was more popularly known), ruler of Palembang (in present day Indonesia), landed at Temasek one day while seeking shelter from a storm. Sighting an animal he took to be a lion, he decided to establish a settlement which he named Singapura, i.e. "Lion City". The island became commonly known as Singapura by the end of the 14th century.

Early History

During the 14th century, Singapore was caught in the struggles between Siam (now Thailand) and the Java-based Majapahit Empire for control over the Malay Peninsula. According to the Sejarah Melayu, Singapore was defeated in one Majapahit attack. Later, a prince of Palembang, Iskandar Shah, also known as Parameswara, killed the local chieftain and installed himself as the island's new ruler. But shortly after, he was driven out, either by the Siamese or by the Javanese forces of the Majapahit Empire. He fled north to Muar in the Malay Peninsula, where he founded the Malacca Sultanate. Singapore remained an important part of the Malacca Sultanate; it was the fief of the admirals (laksamanas), including the famous Hang Tuah. By the early 19th century2, Singapore was under the rule of the Sultan of Johor, who was based in the Riau-Lingga archipelago. One of his senior ministers, the Temenggong, administered Johor and Singapura. When the British East India Company founded their settlement in early 1819, through an agreement with Sultan Hussein Shah and the Temenggong, Singapore had around 1,000 indigenous inhabitants, consisting of Malays as well as the orang laut, i.e. sea nomads. These people were clustered around the Singapore River, Kallang River, Telok Blangah, and along the Johor Straits3. There were also some Chinese traders and gambier planters in the interior.

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