Singapore, ABIM (31/5/2019) – President Halimah Yacob at the Launch of Singapore Bicentennial Experience.Pleased to launch “From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience” this evening. A centrepiece of Singapore Bicentennialcommemoration, it is an experiential multimedia exhibit that showcases our 700-year history. I hope all Singaporeans can visit the showcase for a glimpse of our shared journey.
Speech by President Halimah Yacob at the Launch of Singapore Bicentennial Experience
Minister Josephine Teo, Co-Chair of the Singapore Bicentennial Ministerial Steering Committee,
Members of the Steering Committee,
Friends and Fellow Singaporeans,
Good evening and Ramadan Mubarak to all Muslim guests. It gives me great pleasure to join all of you to mark yet another milestone in the Bicentennial year.
700 years ago – long before the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles – Singapore was already a thriving port. It was known as Temasek. The traditional view is that it was during this period – the beginning of the 14th century – that Sang Nila Utama founded a kingdom, which he called Singapura. More than 500 years later, the British landed here. It was a crucial turning point for Singapura.
First, Stamford Raffles persuaded the Sultan of Johor to allow the British East India Company to establish a trading post here. Then, a little more than five years later, the whole of Singapore, together with some of the surrounding islands, were transferred to the British. The Union Jack flew over our territory, as it did over Malacca and Penang, and of course India. Singapore became a free port, and an emporium through which goods and ideas flowed to and from all directions. Trade became our lifeblood, linking us not only to the region but also to the world beyond. The island flourished, and immigrants from near and far came to our shores in search of a better life. Most had not planned to stay here for long. They had come here merely to earn a living, so that they could support their families back home, which included the Malay Archipelago, India, or China. Over time, these immigrants made this their home. Their hearts may have remained in their motherlands, but they started establishing their roots here – and soon their hearts followed too. Singapore became not only a land of opportunity, but also their home. These early immigrants endured many hardships, and not a few joys, but above all they persisted. As the centuries rolled by, Singapore became Singaporean, immigrants became citizens, and the place became our nation. This is why the Singapore Bicentennial is significant, and worth commemorating.
As we reflect upon our longer history, we cannot forget that 1819 was an important inflexion point for Singapore. It planted the seeds of our post-independence history, and set the stage for the development of modern Singapore. It gave us different values and world views from our neighbours, despite the close ties. In acknowledging how this history has shaped the Singapore we know today, we can appreciate the journey we made from Temasek to Singapura to colonial Singapore, and finally to independent Singapore.
In commemoration of Singapore Bicentennial, numerous activities have been lined up for Singaporeans to discover personal connections to Singapore’s past, and piece together the stories of our shared journey. Since the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial earlier this year, more than 80 commemorative activities have taken place, with several of them being held in neighbourhoods. I am glad that Singaporeans who have taken part in these activities have become more aware about Singapore’s rich and colourful history, and that they have been inspired to discover more.
Our history has moulded the three key traits that define the Singaporean DNA, which some of you may have come across during the preview of the exhibition. First, openness and connectivity. From the very beginning, Singapore has been open and connected to the region and the world. Our openness has always served us well. This island thrived and grew because countless people arrived here to trade, work and live over the centuries. We must remain open, connected and relevant to the world. Even if the rest of the world rolls back on globalisation, we must persist on this path. This is our destiny, and also our strength.
Second, multiculturalism. Singapore has always been made up of different peoples and communities. Our forefathers were of diverse origins, and brought with them different cultures and traditions. Yet, over time, through shared experiences, we developed a collective sense of identity. This multiculturalism is something precious that we must continue to uphold and nurture. Each one of us must preserve this inheritance and pass it down to future generations.
Third, self-determination. Our ancestors were no strangers to challenges and struggles. They lived through dark periods of our history – and survived. They were determined to be masters of their own destiny. We must continue to be innovative, adaptive, and determined to maintain our right to self-determination. These three traits have helped shape us through the centuries. I am certain these three traits will see us successfully through to the next bicentennial.
Today, I am pleased to launch “From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience”. This is the flagship event of the Bicentennial commemoration: An ambitious attempt to tell the story of Singapore’s 700-year history through the use of cutting-edge design, interactive sets and live performances. Visitors will have an immersive experience and partake in the key moments of our history. This exhibition took two years to come to fruition. An enormous amount of work has been put into it. The organisers ploughed through mountains of books, papers and maps, so that their retelling of the Singapore story could be as accurate as possible. Many of you present today have contributed in some way to this showcase. I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation for your hard work and dedication. You should be proud to be a part of this special exhibition.
Coincidentally, this year also marks the 10th anniversary of the book “Singapore: A 700-Year History”, making this an opportune time to update the book. I am pleased to launch the updated version of this book, titled “Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore” this evening, and co-authored by four of Singapore’s foremost historians – Associate Professor Kwa Chong Guan, Professor Derek Heng, Associate Professor Peter Borschberg and Professor Tan Tai Yong. This new book debunks the myth that Singapore was a sleepy, insignificant fishing village – little more than the “occasional resort of pirates”, as some derisively put it – before Raffles landed here. Drawing upon the latest archaeological discoveries and an extensive range of archival, textual and cartographical records, the authors paint a rich tapestry of our history over the past seven centuries.
To complement this book and bring history to life, there will also be an interactive website – 700years.sg, through which Singaporeans will be able to access the imagined social feeds of 25 historical characters. The imagined social feeds will be backed by historical sources and references, and aim to help Singaporeans understand Singapore’s history through multiple perspectives. I am happy to share that 700years.sg will supplement the history curriculum in secondary schools. In fact, some students were involved in previewing the first prototype of the website, and they were most enthusiastic about using this new resource for their history lessons.
I hope The Bicentennial Experience, the book and the interactive website, will enable Singaporeans to have a better appreciation of our shared journey. Our forebears have faced several ups and downs. But they always pulled through because they were determined to make something of themselves. We will continue to be confronted with uncertainty and challenges in the years, decades and centuries to come. But whatever happens, one thing for sure is that we must hold on to our Singaporean DNA – openness, multiculturalism, and self-determination. Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”.
In this Bicentennial year, take a pause and stand on the shoulders of our history, as we reflect on what it means to be Singaporean, the common values and beliefs that bind us. We have come a long way, but we are still a work in progress. We will be never done building Singapore, writing the Singapore story, and becoming Singaporean.
I wish everyone a pleasant and enjoyable evening. Thank you. (ABIM)