In this episode of season 3 of 80 Days: an exploration podcast, we’ll be talking about Saint Helena, a volcanic tropical island in the South Atlantic Ocean, and one of the most isolated points of land in the world. Saint Helena ismore than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) from its nearest mainland neighbour. The nearest port is Namibe in Angola. It was uninhabited up until its discovery by the Portuguese in 1502, and was later taken over by the British. Used for much of its life as an island of exile, its most famous inhabitant was Napoleon Bonaparte, who was exiled there after his defeat at Waterloo. The island today has a population of just over 4500, and is roughly the size of Staten Island in New York or San Marino, at just 121 square kilometeres, or 47 square miles, and its climate is generally mild.
Its inhabitants, known locally as “Saints”, are the descendants of sailors, settlers and slaves, and are said to be fiercely loyal to the British monarchy. The island’s economy is dependent on British grants and remittances, and up until recently its only link to the outside world was by a Royal Mail Ship, the St Helena, which made a five-day journey from Cape Town in South Africa, every three weeks.
Thanks to Fran Hobbs for his insightful interview about life on the island. A massive thanks to all of our patrons on Patreon who are supporting season 3. If you’d like to join them and see what rewards are available for supporters, and get a peek behind the curtain check out www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast. We really appreciate the support and input!
Welcome to Season 2 of 80 Days: an exploration podcast. Today we will be exploring the fascinating history and culture of Singapore , the lion city. This tiny island city-state is home to 5.5 million people and is located just off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, one degree north of the equator. It’s a country without seasons, remaining hot and humid year-round, and gained full independence just 51 years ago, although it wasn’t a cause for celebration at the time, as we’ll see. Since then, Singapore has developed rapidly as an Asian Tiger economy, despite its lack of any natural resources and today is one of the most well-developed and successful cities in the world.
Table of Contents: [05:02] Early History and founding of the “Lion City” [14:05] Dutch and British East India Companies in the area [17:41] Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles founds a British colony
[26:20] Singapore growing, with little government [31:00] Music break (traditional) [31:25] World War 1 aftermath and fortification of Singapore [35:38] World War 2, Battle of Malaya [44:43] Japanese Occupation [48:35] Post-war unrest, self-determination, the rise of Lee Kuan Yew [52:00] A Malaysia including Singapore [56:15] Involuntary Independence [58:22] Music Break (modern patriotic song) [59:00] Modern Singapore [1:05:55] Economy [1:09:15] Population planning [1:13:49] Crime and punishment [1:19:32] Languages: melting pot of speech [1:24:54] Military song in Singlish
Generally if you want to keep learning about Singapore in more depth, the following would be useful:
“History of Singpore” documentary on the Discovery Channel directed by Tim Lambert (Lion Television) 2005
The Hisory of Singapore podcast by PJ Thum (who teaches Southeast Asian history at Universoty of Oxford) – this gives very in-depth history of the city state. It is quite political and at times critical of the mainstream opinion of Singaporean history
Talk the Talk episode on Singlish, the unique ‘colloquial English’ dialect common in Singapore and its relationship to the many other languages spoken in this melting-pot country
Some things you might like to know more about:
Singapore’s early history showed the island appearing on the radar of the Greek geographer Ptolemy (as “Sabana”, c. 100 AD), in Chinese imperial records (as “Pú Luó Zhong/蒲罗中“, a transliteration of Malay name for “Island at the end”), and in Old Javanese epics (as “Temasek“, perhaps meaning “sea town”, a literal name for the fishing port that pre-existed the city inhabited by Orung Laut/”sea gypsies”). It is also widely described in the Malay Annals.
In the 14th century, legend tells of the Kingdom of Singapura being founded by Sang Nila Ultama , Srivijaya Prince from Palembang
He is the legendary source of the name “Singapore”, literally “Lion City” (in Sanskrit). It is told that upon landing on the island, he went hunting and saw a lion, which was considered an auspicious symbol. There is no historical evidence lions ever lived on the island. Accounts of the legend can be found on Remembering Singapore, from this school resource, or in the cartoon The Story of Singapore. Remembering Singapore is a very useful resource with lots of photographs of the island and further information.
Five generations later, Parameswara (alias Iskandar Shah) was an important figure, who lost Singapore to a Majapahit invasion, fled to Malacca and founded the sultanate there which became the core of the Malay world for centuries to come. The historical evidence of most details of his life are hazy, as is summarised here.
He was succeeded by William Farquhuar, who had a different vision for the settlement than Raffles and the two came into conflict over issues such as slavery and gambling, which Farquhar allowed, arguing that they were essential to the survival of the place.
The laissez-faire governmental style, as the settlement had a large influx of Chinese laborours meant that various secret societies or gangs became very powerful in Singapore as the place for the Chinese population to look for protection and support (see “The Social Life of Chinese Labor” by Adam McKeown)
The Government knows little or nothing of the Chinese, who are industrial backbone of these [Straits] Settlements; and the immense majority of them know nothing of the Government. We know that a certain number of Chinese arrive each year, and that a certain number go away; but how long they stay, how many come back a second time, what they think about and desire – as to all this we know nothing… We believe that the case majority of the Chinamen who come to work in these Settlements return to their country not knowing clearly whether there is a Government in them or not
“But they also showed a meanness and viciousness towards their enemies equal to the Huns’. Genghis Khan and his hordes could not have been more merciless. I have no doubts about whether the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary. Without them, hundreds of thousands of civilians in Malaya and Singapore, and millions in Japan itself, would have perished” — Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs
Post-war Singapore saw great changes, including social agitation and race riots as the British began to disengage from direct rule.
The most significant figure in the second half of the 20th Century was long-serving prime minister Lee Kuan Yew . Leader of the People’s Action Party, he became the unquestioned leader of the independent Singapore for 30 years, shaping the new country to his own vision through strict but largely fair rule.
In 1963, Lee fulfilled his ambition of seeing Singapore join into a political union with British Malaya, Borneo and Sarawak; the modern state of Malaysia – this project, however was doomed to failure because of racial and religious tensions between largely ethnic Malay/Muslim Malaya and the significant ethnic Chinese component of Singapore’s population.
Prime Minister Lee was very emotional when he announced to his people that Singapore was leaving the union and embarking on an unwished-for independence
Watch one of many Singaporean military songs in the distinctive Singlish language:
A few songs may interest you, also, some of which you will have heard:
“Dayung Sampan” – to quote it’s description on YouTube: “This video “Dayung Sampan” features Noraniza Idris, and He Yun (from China Hebei) playing the Erhu, a Chinese traditional instrument. “Dayung Sampan” is the Malay version of the famous Chinese tune “Tian Mi Mi” (甜蜜蜜). This is a fresh collaboration between the Malay and Chinese culture”
In this week’s episode of 80 Days, we are talking about Brunei, a tiny independent state of just 2,200 square miles, located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Borneo is a tropical, equatorial island, one of the largest in the world, divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Brunei borders exclusively on the Malaysian section of Borneo. Its small section of coastline is inhabited by just over 400,000 people, and is among the richest nations in the world in terms of natural resources. Traditionally ruled by a Sultan, it became a British protectorate in 1888 and gained independence from the United Kingdom on January 1st 1984. Modern Brunei is ruled by a ‘Malay Islamic Monarchy’, where a Sultan acts as Supreme Head of State, ruling effectively as prime minister, finance minister, and commander of the armed forces. Brunei is the first and only country in East Asia to be ruled by Sharia law, introduced by the current Sultan in 2013. Your hosts are Luke Kelly@thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle@markboyle86 and Joe Byrne@anbeirneach, in Hong Kong, the UK and Ireland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)
There are some things we talked about you might want to know more about:
It is difficult to say much for certain about the important Chinese diplomat, trader or prince Ong Sum Ping (the local Hokkien pronunciation of 黃森屏, Huang Senping in Mandarin), but he was clearly an important figure in Brunei’s earliest history, arriving in the area around 1375, marrying into the family of 1st Sultan Muhammad Shah, and subsequently helping to repel an invasion from the Sulu islands. His exact role is often occluded in modern history perhaps because he was either not Muslim or not Malay. Some of the conflicting information and opinions can be found on Wikipedia, the Brunei Times, from blogs I’m Just Saying, and Nomadic Republic, and from Malaysian politician Lim Kit Siang
In 1521, Brunei was visited by the first voyage to circumnavigate the globe, the Magellan-Elcano Expedition and an account was kept by Antonio Pigafetta (an Italian and the historian on the ship) of their meeting with the Sultan: “The king to whom we presented ourselves is a Moor, and is named Raja Siripada: he is about forty years of age, and is rather corpulent. No one serves him except ladies who are the daughters of the chiefs. No one speaks to him except by means of the blow-pipe“
The Castillian War between the Spanish in Manilla and Brunei was a defining moment in 1578 when conflict over trade, religion and land led to military enagement between the Europeans and the Sultanate. In the end, disease played a large role in weakening the Spanish forces, hastening the Bruneian victory. Read about it on Brunei Resources (more from the same author in the Brunei Times), including the following quote:
Why did the Spaniards leave? According to Brunei legends, the Spaniards kept facing attacks organised by Pengiran Bendahara Sakam. The latter is seen as one of Brunei’s past folk heroes. He attacked the Spaniards with 1,000 men and defeated them. However, Western historians do not accept this version and deny that Bendahara Sakam even existed, preferring the version that the Spaniards left because of dysentery. According to the Spanish records, only 17 died of dysentery in Brunei and another six on the return to Manila, although a number of Filipinos also died. – Brunei Resources
A surprising character in the history of Brunei was Sir James Brooke (1803-1868), who after his exploits with the British East India Company’s Bengal Army and subsequent exploring ended up helping the Sultan crush a rebellion. He, and his heirs were given the province of Sarawak (later also taking Labuan) and became know as the “White Rajahs“; the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class have an episode on the White Rajahs, which is worth a listen
The Brunei Revolt (1962) was an uprising by factions opposed the monarchy and to the prospect of union with Malaysia (including Brunei People’s Party) which was put down by British troops led by Lt Col Digby Willoughby (also a renowned bobsleigher); below is an image of the Queen’s Own Highlanders patrolling for rebels in jungle waterways near Brunei’s oil fields