Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Ancient Histories of Singapore

The earliest possible mention of ancient Singapore is dates back to 2nd Century cartographic references. Greco-Roman astronomer Claudius Ptolemy (AD 100 - AD 170) marked a place called Sabana, a coastal port at the southernmost tip of the Malayan peninsula, on his map. The area where Singapore lies and identified was known as a "Nominon Emporion" or a designated foreign trading port. It was a part of a chain of trading centers that linked South East Asia with India and Mediterranean.
Links between India and Singapore go back to ancient times. In the first century A.D., Claudius Ptolemaeus, a Greek astronomer, collected astronomical observations from the countries around the Indian Ocean in order to determine their locations. One of these, Sabana, lay in the area of modern Singapore.  Sabana was a nominon emporion or designated foreign trading port, part of a chain of such trading centres which linked Southeast Asia with India and the Mediterranean 2,000 years ago.  The Greeks themselves never reached Sabana. According to Ptolemy, Sabana should have lain somewhere in the vicinity of the Johor-Riau-Singapore area.
Source : Records of Ancient Links between India and Singapore
A 3rd century Chinese witten record also described the island of "Pu Luo Zhong" (蒲羅中). This is probably a transliteration of the Malay Pulau Ujong, "island at the end" (of the Malay peninsula). It is said that Pulau Ujong maintained as a fishing village from that time on.

In 1320, the Mongol court has sent a mission to a placed called Long Yamen (Dragon's Tooth Strait) to get elephants. This probably referred to Keppel Harbour.A visitor from China, Wang Dayuan, who came around 1330, called the main settlement Pancur (spring), and reported that there were Chinese already living here.

Sabana on Ptolemy's world map
Sabana on Ptolemy's world map
One of the earliest references to Singapore as Temasek, or Sea Town, was found in the Javanese Nagarakretagama' of 1365. The name was also mentioned in a Vietnamese source at around the same time. By the end of the 14th century, the Sanskrit name, Singapura (Lion City), became commonly used.(Source : Singapore History)

The Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals contains a tale of a prince Srivijaya, Sri Tri Buana (also known as Sang Nila Utama). During one of his voyages, he saw the beautiful beach of Temasek (Sea Town) and decided to take a closer look. He only reached the Temasek after surviving a great sea storm in the late 13th century. According to the tale, the prince saw a strange creature, which he was told was a lion. Believing that this is an auspicious sign, he decided to name the new settlement Singapura, which means Lion City (lions have never lived in Singapore and the name probably comes from the shape of the island which looks like a male lion with mane on the map).

In late 15th century, Singapore appears in Malay Annals :
The Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals, compiled around 1435, contains information passed down from earlier times. The first section of the Malay Annals tells the story of a great Indian ruler, Raja Shulan, who after conquering all of India, set his sights on China.  However, he only had a vague idea of where China was.  The Chinese, learning of Raja Shulan's intent, and wishing to avoid conflict, employed a stratagem.  They sent an old ship crewed by a group of aged men to Singapore. Raja Shulan, on his way to China, also stopped in Singapore.  He met the doddering Chinese sailors and asked them how much further away China lay. The old sailors informed Raja Shulan that China was so far away that when they had set out, they were still young. Raja Shulan decided to return to India.
Source : Records of Ancient Links between India and Singapore
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 (Malay Annals), Singapore was defeated in one Majapahit attack, but Iskandar Shah, or Parameswara, a prince of Palembang, later killed the local chieftain and installed himself as the island's new ruler. 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.(Source : Singapore History)

Recent excavations in Fort Canning provide evidence that Singapore was a port of some importance in the 14th century and used for transactions between Malays and Chinese.

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