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(13th to 14th Century) TEMASEK! Year 1351 CE was when Temasek was set, a time
when the power and wealth of Temasek as a trading port was well-known and envied widely. It was even to the extent that Singapura was attacked by the Majapahit empire. However, Singaporeans have displayed little or even no interest towards this amazing history that Singapore once had, coming as a surprise. There is the misconception that Singapore had only existed as a small and unworthy small fishing village before the British East India Company specially chose the island to develop into a trading port in 1819. SangUtama? Ever heard of Munshi Abdullah? Munshi Abdullah, a famous Malay teacher and interpreter for Raffles, shared this interesting account of the founding of Singapore by Sang Utama. Singapura was founded by the Prince from Pelambang, which is also Sumatra. On his way to the island, a violent storm broke out and heeding one of the boatmen’s advice, Sang Utama threw his crown overboard. Only then did the storm subside. After spotting a creature that looked like a lion on the island, he named Temasek Singapura or Lion City. Singapore became a thriving trading centre under Sang Utama as many foreign traders came. The Javanese were jealous of the wealth and power and attacked Singapura. Temasek? Have you ever wondered what Singapore was like as a trading port in 13th and 14th century? Or maybe questioned yourself whether there even was a Singapore before 1819? You may have heard that Singapore used to be called Temasek and the story of how the name ‘Singapura’ came about. The Sejarah Melayu, also known as the Malay Annals, tells the story of how Sang Utama, a ruler of Palembang in Sumatra, founded a settlement in Temasek. But how would we know if this source is factual or accurate?
We will have to take into account the:
-pictorial evidence. SEJARAH MELAYU How do historians find out the existence of pre-1819 Singapore? Written sources
-The Sejarah Melayu
-Chinese Records (Wang Dayuan's accounts)
-The Singapore Stone
-Tombstones The Sejarah Melayu, also known as The Malay Annals, is a semi-legendary account of life in the 13th to 14th century. It was, however, written in the 16th to 17th century. The text was compiled by different people at various times. There are about 30 versions of the text. Singapore used to be called Temasek, meaning sea port or sea town. Sang Utama, a ruler from Sumatra, was the one who founded Singapore but renamed Temasek Singapura, meaning Lion City, after spotting a creature that resembled a lion on the island. This was written in the Sejarah Melayu. Sang Utama and his descendants led Singapura wisely and turned her into a successful and thriving trading centre. It also tells us that Singapura’s prosperity was a source of envy to its more powerful neighbouring kingdom, the Majapahit empire in Java. This caused war to ensue. Thus, the wall of the fort stretched from the sea to the wall called Bukit Larangan, now known as Fort Canning Hill. SEJARAH MELAYU This following passage was extracted from the Sejarah Melayu: Singapura became a great city, to which foreigners arrived in great numbers so that the fame of the city and its greatness spread throughout the world. Batara, the ruler of the Majapahit Kingdom heard that Singapore was a great city. He ordered his war-chiefs to have a fleet made ready for an attack on Singapura. A great battle started. Many were killed and the ground flowed with blood but in the end, the local forces succeeded in driving the Javanese away. HOWEVER! Some historians doubt that the great trading city of Singapore as recorded in the Sejarah Melayu was real and not a legend. Was Singapore really a bustling trading port connected to the other parts of Southeast Asia or was it a sleepy, isolated and insignificant island? The only settlers Raffles found when he landed on its shores were a small group of farmers and fishermen. There was also an inhabited hill known as Bukit Larangan which stands for ‘The Forbidden Hill’. (Description of the Barbarians of the Isles) DAO YI ZHI LUE Another travel account is ‘Daoyi Zhi Lue’ which is also ‘Description of the Barbarians of the Isles’. This book was written by Wang Dayuan who visited Singapore during the 14th century. The eyewitness description of Wang Dayuan in his book enables us to conduct more in depth research on whether Singapore really was a successful trading port in the past. Here’s what he wrote about early Singapore: The list of products exported by Temasek compromised hornbill casques, the large beak of a tropical bird, of very fine quality, as well as lakawood and cotton of moderate quality. While the range is rather limited when compared to the products available at the Malay Peninsula, the quality and type of products were certainly unique. What was significant was the outstanding quality of the hornbill casques, which were not available anywhere else in the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra. He also said that Temasik has become a great and famous place visited by large number of foreigners. There were some Chinese settlers in Temasik. Traders feared to come to this place. Pirates were lurking to raid the Chinese junks. According to Wang Dayuan’s description of Singapura, Chinese traders brought valuable goods to sell. Singapura was a bustling trading centre in the 1330s and 1340s. Temasek was exotic, famous and was frequently visited by traders and Chinese settlers. Traders were afraid to come due to piracy. This Chinese written source supports the description in the Sejarah Melayu that Temasek was a prosperous trading centre. Written sources also support this hypothesis as Wang Da Yuan’s records agree with the Sejarah Melayu that Singapore used to be a trading port. However, the written sources for the history of Singapore are scanty and ambiguous, thus there is a lack of confirmation. There is even room for debate for whether Temasek and Singapore refer to the same place. This is because with the lack of technology and development in the past, we can’t even be sure whether the mapping of Singapura was accurate. My Hypothesis: Singapore was a trading port. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE To find out if Singapore really was a vibrant trading city as early as the 14th century, we can make good use of artefacts found in the archaeological sites in Singapore as evidence. Archaeologists have unearthed fragments of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Other objects such as a compass, wine cups and coins from China and Sri Lanka were found. 15th century Thai and Vietnamese porcelain were also unearthed. Such excavations in Fort Canning testify and provide evidence that Singapore was a port of some importance in the 14th century, used for transactions between the Malays and Chinese, a city that became wealthy by serving as an important port of call for richly laden trade ships plying the pirate-infested waters of the Malacca Straits region. Up till today, more than 30,000 pieces of artefacts have been recovered at the Fort Canning archaeological site. Although the artefacts consist mainly of shards, they play great importance in helping us find out whether Singapore really was a successful and wealthy trading port back in the 14th century. Ancient gold ornaments such as an armlet and golden rings of the Majapahit style were discovered at Fort Canning. The jewellery could be dated to the Majapahit period in the middle of the 14th century. Although there are many archaeological sites in Singapore, such as Fort Canning, the Parliament House and Empress Place, Fort Canning is believed to be the first excavation site in Singapore. A number of precious finds include glass beads, and the 13th and 14th century green celadon and blue and white porcelain fragments were recovered. Dr. John Miksic who was involved in the digging commented: We have found fragments everywhere, extending right over to the northern side of the hill. We dug eight pits, covering a total area of 44 square metres. We have also come across traces of a moat, built many years ago, a wooden bridge and a staircase which looks as if it could have been built in the 20th century. The fact that the porcelain is in fragments indicates that the items were not buried, but had been used in that area. FORT CANNING From all the artefacts discovered at Fort Canning, I was able to infer that the Fort Canning area probably was an important place - possibly a palace of kings and the nobles. This gives historians and archaeologists a clue and they can further their research in this area. It also tells us that Temasek’s successful trading port could have been controlled by the kings and nobles at Fort Canning. FORT CANNING THE SINGAPORE STONE Another artefact is The Singapore Stone. The Singapore Stone was a sandstone monolith with 50 lines of ancient inscriptions. It was found at the mouth of the Singapore River in 1819, soon after the arrival of the British in an attempt to extend Fort Fullerton to enable it to better guard the harbor and warehouses along the Singapore River. It measures 3 metres high and wide. Legends abound about the meaning of the inscriptions and its very existence. Dating back to the 12th or 13th century, these writings show that people of those days could already read and write but in a different language from us today. The Sejarah Melayu tells how Badang, a very strong man, planted the gigantic Singapore Stone at the mouth of the Singapore River. Until today, no one has the ability to decipher or make sense of the writing. Recent theories suggest that the inscription is either in Old Javanese or in Sanskrit. It is likely that the person who commissioned the inscription was Sumatran. there is no evidence to prove this and it is merely a theory. Even though the writing remains a mystery, the stone itself is a useful artefact. This is because it tells us that the history of Singapore goes back a long way and has had a long history. The writing suggests that Singapore existed as a settlement in the past. If Singapore existed as a settlement, we can infer that Singapore was a trading port with people living in Singapore. Since there is evidence of civillization, we can tell that there was human activity. The slab was blown up in 1843 to clear and widen the passageway at the river mouth to make space for a fort and the quarters of its commander. Various fragments of the stone were removed from Singapore and the remaining piece of the Singapore Stone can be found in the National Museum of Singapore. It was designated by the museum as one of 11 "national treasures" in January 2006, and by the National Heritage Board as one of the top 12 artefacts held in the collections of its museums. HOWEVER, HOWEVER, how can we prove if this part about Parameswara is fiction or fact? When you visit Fort Canning today, you will notice a Keramat. No one knows for sure who was buried in this shrine. But it is believed to be the resting place of Iskandar Shah, a ruler of Temasek in the 14th century. However, there were different views of who was buried in the Keramat. DISAGREEMENT IN VIEWS Historians tend to look at things from different perspectives so we still have insufficient evidence to support who is the one buried in the keramat. However, the fact that Iskandar Shah could have ran the trading port with the other officials once again supports my hypothesis-Singapore was a trading port in the 13th and 14th century. After cross-referencing different sources of evidence, such as the Serjarah Melayu, artefacts and Wang Dayuan’s written account, I can conclude that the 14th century Singapore was a busy trading city and was visited by foreign traders from China, Sri Lanka and around Southeast Asia such as Vietnam and Thailand. It was usually a trans-shipment point between different ecological regions like China and India. I can also be aware that there was a place called Temasek as the Sejarah Melayu refered to a place as Temasek and Wang Da Yuan also called the place Dan Ma Xi (Temasek). We can also infer that the Fort Canning area probably was an important place - possibly palace of king and the nobles-due to the great amount of artefacts discovered there. These people could be the ones in charge of Temasek’s trading port. CONCLUSION The message I wish to send across is that history is alive and exciting. The lessons we learn from history can help us avoid the mistakes of the past, think of ways to overcome obstacles and plan the future wisely. BIBLIOGRAPHY Agreeing with the Sejarah Melayu, I feel that Singapore was indeed a successful trading port. This is because the Sejarah Melayu stresses the fact the Singapore was a trading port with great power. WHAT I THINK: WHAT I FEEL ABOUT THE SINGAPORE STONE: I feel that although up till today, nobody is still able to decipher the writings on the stone, but it is still a very crucial and important archaeological evidence. Even though we are unable to tell what was written on the stone, it tells us that Singapore has had a long hisotry, which supports my hypothesis that Singapore was already a trading port back in the 13th and 14th century. http://lynchmenow.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/fort-canning/, 9 April 2013 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singapore_Stone, 7 April 2013 http://www.dsphotographic.com/g2/singapore/fortCanningPark/Fort+Canning+Park+-+002.jpg.html, 7 April 2013 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Gate_of_Fort_Canning_2,_Fort_Canning_Hill,_Nov_05.JPG, 7 April 2013 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JavaneseGoldOrnaments-14C NationalMuseumofSingapore-20090712.jpg, 7 April 2013 http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dao_Yi_Zhi_Lue.jpg, 5 April 2013 http://www.worldoftemasek.com/index.php/article/history, 3 April 2013 ONE OF THE ARTEFACTS FOUND: Panpac Education Private Limited (2007), Singapore: From Settlement to Nation, Pre-1819 to 1971, Singapore: EPB Pan Pacific