Some of us might have come across the new heritage plan by the National Heritage Board (NHB), as announced by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Mdm Grace Fu this past week. This new plan seeks to preserve not only the physical remnants of the past, but also the intangible cultural heritage of this little red dot.
Personally, my thought were – given the world’s rapid globalisation and influence, everything that we see out there are becoming homogenised. Yes, our choices are becoming more diversified but these choices all remain the same. We see the same Starbucks coffee houses and the same Nike stores in Singapore, New York, or Paris. International brands, global hotels, theme parks. The list goes on. What does it even mean to protect our unique identity, or rather, what identity?
Or at least, that was what I previously thought. I had the opportunity to participate in a media preview of a new exhibition held at the Malay Heritage Centre titled Sirri na Pesse: Navigating Bugis Identities in Singapore. At first I was pretty amused because I thought that Bugis was just a place known for its trendy clothes and mouth-watering delicacies.
Photo: Malay Heritage Board
Little did I know that, just as the Chinese could be spilt into various sub-ethnic groups with origins from different parts of China, the local Malay community was also formed by various groups from around the region – one of which is the Bugis, fierce warriors and seafarers that played an integral role in Singapore’s identity as a port city.
“It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition.” – Henry James
More than just a history lesson, it also made me realise how the hustle and bustle of our lives made me overlook the beauty of our societal diversity. Consumed by the daily routine of life like projects, finals, internship, work - have we became "blind" to how our culture and heritage, our identity, still stands strong amidst the passing of time in our motherland? There are so many lesser known facts about Singapore that I did not know – it almost made me ashamed to say that I am a Singaporean.
Before we continue, I would like to pose a question: since the preservation of such heritage plans are to be passed down to our future generations, do such intangibles still matter or exist in the younger ones’ collective mind-set? Many may feel otherwise, including myself, because such intangibles may have changed or became diluted over time. Do I practice rituals or traditions that my grandma believed in? No.
While this may sound contradictory to what I've mentioned earlier, and let me emphasise that I'm not here trying to promote nationalism, I just hope that we all realize while such intangibles may not necessarily be practiced by us anymore, it was and it still is a part of us. Could you imagine if certain beliefs and rituals were not here anymore, like not carrying oranges when we visit our Chinese friends for Chinese New Year, or no muruku for Deepavali?
Going back to NHB’s plan: Singapore has tangible items like national monuments, conserved buildings and heritage trails that allow us to dive back into the past. Although our traditions, customs and practices may have changed over time, let us continue to recognize the beauty and evolution of that these intangibles, and focus on making it relevant for the younger ones.
Hence, it is also of utmost importance that we preserve such icons, not just physical landmarks, but also reminders of the intangible heritage we share and which binds us together.
Photo: National Heritage Board
The intangible heritage plan is set out to unveil next year, but in the meantime – let’s better understand and appreciate our unique identity in the light of the past that illuminates it.