"Balik Pulau" - Exploring Singapore's island heritage

Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 11 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE: While many know Singapore as a sunny island, not many are aware that it is an archipelago once made up of more than 70 islands. In recognition of this rich culture, this year's Singapore Heritage Festival (July 18 to 27) is themed "Our Islands, Our Home".

Ahead of the event, the National Museum of Singapore has launched an exhibition titled "Balik Pulau: Stories from Singapore's Islands". Visitors will be able to gain a better understanding of how islanders lived, worked and played, through video interviews, historical images and artefacts.

While some islands like St John's Island, Pulau Ubin and Sentosa have become popular getaways for busy urbanites, many are lesser known. For example, Pulau Seking was the site of the last kampung in the Southern islands, and it was linked to Pulau Semakau to form Semakau Landfill.

82-year-old Teo Yan Teck once ran a provision shop in Pulau Seking with his elder brother Yen Eng. They had lived on the island for close to 40 years, from 1955 to 1994, and were sad when they had to be re-settled to make way for the landfill. "At that time, we had to burn our fishing boat as there was no space to put it,” said Mr Teo. “I miss fishing on the island. The scenery and environment were good."

Indeed, as many of the islands have been transformed beyond recognition, stories like Mr Teo's become valuable links to the past. "We are always looking for new ways to work with communities and to find lesser known nuggets of interesting stories about Singapore. It's about treasuring what we have today, and appreciating what we had before as well,” said Ms Angelita Teo, director of the National Museum of Singapore. “Singapore has to move on, we have to develop in a global world. But it's also very important to hold on to our roots and to remember where we came from."

The exhibition, which runs till August 10, also highlights boat racing as an integral part of island life. These races took place regularly in the Southern islands until the 1970s, and attracted skilled sailors from the islands and even nearby Indonesia.

- CNA/xy

New exhibition harks back to S’pore’s island idyll
LOUISA TANG Today Online 11 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE — Those were carefree days of island living: Swimming in clear waters, walks by the sea with the woman who later became his wife, and free outdoor movie screenings, three times a week. But Mr Sugiman Jahuri’s idyllic life became a thing of the past when he moved to mainland Singapore at the age of 25 after living on one of the nation’s offshore islands for 12 years.

Mr Sugiman, now 75, was one of the residents on Pulau Bukom, an offshore island south-west of Singapore that is now home to the largest Shell oil refinery in the world. His story is one of those being captured in an exhibition by the National Heritage Board at the National Museum of Singapore, called Balik Pulau: Stories from Singapore’s Islands, which seeks to document the stories of those who lived, worked and played on the more than 70 islands that made up the Singapore archipelago.

Most Singaporeans have never had the chance to learn about the history surrounding these islands. Ms Angelita Teo, director of the National Museum of Singapore, said this is the first time the museum is exploring the heritage of Singapore’s many islands in such detail.

“Although the islands are small in size, their stories are anything but that. In fact, they are big in heart and soul, and speak volumes of island life back in those days,” said Ms Teo.

The exhibition is designed to be immersive so visitors can get to experience what island life was like. It also aims to inspire the present generation to visit the islands. Said curator Marcus Ng, 39, whose interest in the islands began after he visited a few of the offshore islands: “It’s a very interesting juxtaposition ... it’s an operational landfill (Pulau Semakau), but yet it’s a thriving habitat for mangroves and coral reefs.”

Before the oil refinery expanded in 1961, Pulau Bukom used to house a small community of about a thousand people.

Mr Sugiman was of primary-school age when he moved to the island from mainland Singapore. He began working for the oil refinery in 1956, but he was asked to leave the island a decade later, along with the last remaining villagers who lived there. “You really cannot find a place like that here anymore. Life was very simple then,” he reminisced. “Now, it’s so fast-paced.”

Mr Teo Yan Teck, who ran a provision shop on Pulau Sakeng for about 40 years until 1994, used to take a boat to nearby islands such as Pulau Semakau. Said the 82-year-old: “On the island, there was no stress. I was very upset when I had to leave for the mainland.”

So was Mr Sugiman’s wife, Mdm Annah Sarip, 66. “When I left Pulau Bukom, I missed my friends and the free movies the most.”

“Balik Pulau: Stories from Singapore’s Islands” is held in conjunction with Singapore HeritageFest 2014. The exhibition is running till Aug 10 from 10am to 6pm daily. Admission is free.