As Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, “Only when we first know our traditional values can we be quite clear the Western world is a different system, a different voltage, structured for purposes different from ours.” In our increasingly globalised world, just how well do we know about Singapore’s traditional values in order to create a distinct identity we can truly call our own?
Introducing “From the Stacks”: a exhibition by the National Library Board (NLB)featuring more than 100 artefacts dating back to the 18th century. On display are rare print artefacts that tell a story of Singapore’s historical multi-racial and multi-cultural context. The exhibition was prepared by three curators from NLB: Tan Huism, Deputy Director, Exhibitions, Curation and Rare Collection; Chung Sang Hong, Assistant Director, Exhibitions & Curation; Georgina Wong: Assistant Curator, Exhibitions & Curation.
Here are some of our favourite artefacts from their huge collection!
History of the NLB
This exhibit displays some of the important documents pertaining to Singapore’s history, carefully chosen by the curators. These include the first newspaper in Singapore, actual copies of the Singapore Gazettes published even before Singapore’s independence, and the minutes by Sir Stamford Raffles on the establishment of the first National Library.
Artist impression of the first National Library along Beach Road
The first newspaper in Singapore, 1833. Each page has to be backed up and carefully wrapped with plastic to prevent crumbling due to age.
History of Singapore’s Press Industry
Singapore’s press industry made its debut when the Mission Press produced the first copy of the Bible in all 4 languages (English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil). Their aim was surprisingly not for profit, but to spread Christianity into China via the evangelism of the South East Asia region.
The Sermon of Jesus upon the Mount in Chinese, Malay and English. Malacca: Anglo-Chinese College Press, 1842
Here you can find one of the earliest extant copies of the Qur’an that was printed in Kampong Glam in 1869. After the printing of the Qur’an (black ink on white paper), the colours had to be manually painted on by the staff. Look how delicate these artefacts are!
Lithographed Qur’an, 1869
Hikayat Abdullah, Singapore Mission Press, 1849 (above) and Eye-glass for Those Who Seek Knowledge, 1859 (below)
More about Sir Stamford Raffles
Sir Stamford Raffles was the founder of Singapore who transformed our fishing village into a trading port. However, not many of us know of the political games that he was involved in during his times. These letters provide us with deeper insights into Singapore and Sir Raffles’ personal life.
A memoir of Sir Stamford Raffles written by his widowed wife, Sophia Raffles
The Japanese Occupation
During the Japanese Occupation, the soldiers took control of the publishing industry in order to spread their propaganda. Here, we can see newspapers containing Japanese propaganda during the war, till their final defeat in 1945. The final copy of Syonan Simbun reporting Japan’s defeat with “Japan has done her best to serve the people”.
The Syonan Simbun during Japanese Occupation in English (above) and Chinese (below)
From the Stacks is a rare opportunity to see rare artefacts that have been instrumental in building a more complete picture of Singapore’s history and eventually leading her to independence. Many of these pieces have been displayed for the first time from the National Library’s Rare Materials Collection, and as a wonderfully curated public exhibit, one can easily see the slow but steady strengthening of the Singaporean identity.
In tandem with the exhibition, the National Library Board will also be conducting public tours and talks by various experts to facilitate a better understanding of our nation’s rich heritage. The public tours on weekdays are conducted in English from 7.30 to 8.30 pm on 27 May, 17 June, 15 July and 19 Aug 2016. Weekend tours will be from 1.00 to 2.00pm from now till 28 August 2016 (closed on public holidays).
Stay tuned for our article on a Heritage Food Talk and Cooking Demonstration organised by the National Library with Miss Aziza Ali, the pioneer restaurateur of Malay fine-dining in Singapore! For more information regarding the exhibition and talks, head over to National Library’s website.
Let us learn and better understand Singapore’s culture and heritage so as to create an even stronger Singapore identity.
All photos have been taken at the From The Stacks exhibition, and are the writers' own.