Blood and politics at the Cape of Stakes

28 05 2010

In writing a recent post relating to the news of the shift of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, as well as in my recent wanderings around the Tanjong Pagar area, I was reminded me of two events in which the Tanjong Pagar area came can be said to have come under attack. The first, is a fourteenth, or perhaps fifteenth century tale from the Malay Annals, the Sejarah Melayu, a myth which has more recently been retold to our children as the story of how Redhill (Bukit Merah) got its name. The tale was perhaps better known previously as Singapura Dilanggar Todak, which was popularised by the Malay movie of the same name, made during the heydays of Malay cinema in the early 1960s, which was filmed on location at a beautiful coastal village in the north that Singapore has forgotten, one that I have my own fond memories of, Kampung Tanjung Irau. An record of this is provided by Salizah Mahmud in her tribute to her kampung.

Tanjong Pagar or the 'Cape of Stakes" is where one of the busiest posts in the world, the Port of Singapore, developed from., and laid the foundation for the many financial institutions in nearby Shenton Way.

The other attack was one that we are sure did happen, although advocates of opposition representation within the political system, were pinching themselves in disbelieve at what they had then witnessed. It was also one that shook the ruling party, and which took them a while to come to terms with. It was an event that was significant for its impact on the political landscape in Singapore, loosening the tight grip that the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) had on Singapore’s Parliament. That was then 1981, when for some 15 years, the PAP had absolute control of Parliament, holding every seat. With the appointment of the late Mr. C. V. Devan Nair, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Anson (Anson Constituency had occupied the southern part of Tanjong Pagar), to the Presidency of the Republic of Singapore, a by-election was called, in which, much to the astonishment of the PAP whose campaign was led by Mr. Goh Chok Tong, the opposition candidate, the late Mr. Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam from the Workers’ Party (WP), overturned a huge majority in favour of that the PAP had garnered during the 1980 General Elections, to win with 51.9% of the votes. Mr. Jeyaretnam or Jeya as he was referred to, retained his seat in the next General Elections in 1984, before being disqualified as an MP, being jailed and fined for making a false declaration in accounts of the WP. What Jeya did though, was significant enough, and it removed the fear that many in Singapore who harboured disaffection with the political system, had for voting for the opposition. This led the way for other opposition candidates to fare better in the elections that followed, with some managing to increase opposition representation, albeit small, in Parliament, and the event can be said to be the catalyst for the more open style of government that we see today.

Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam at his moment of triumph in Anson in October1981.

Back to the myth of the Singapura Dilanggar Todak, the story is one that involves an attack on Singapore’s inhabitants by todak, which are described, in the recent interpretations of the tale, as swordfish, jumping out of the water. A barricade of men, placed by the ruler, Paduka Sri Maharaja, did little to stem the tide, and resulted only in further loss of lives. Desperate to save the local population, Paduka Sri Maharaja and his advisers took the advice of a young boy who suggested erecting a barricade of banana stems. When the swordfish did attack again, they were caught in the stems allowing the ruler’s men to kill the fish. Feeling threatened by the boys genius, the advisers persuaded the ruler to kill the boy, spilling his blood, as our modern interpretations of the tale would have it, on a hill which we now call Bukit Merah or Redhill.

The building blocks of the stakes of today, a skyscraper, being laid in Tanjong Pagar.

The name Tanjong Pagar, translated into the Cape of Stakes, is thought by some circles to have originated from this myth, the stockade of banana stems being the “stakes” in the name. Some would have it though that it was the kelongs in the area was known to have that gave Tanjong pagar its name, in reference to the fishing stakes of the kelongs, with Munshi Abdullah recording that the first kelong in Singapore was set up around the corner at Tanjong Malang (which I believe is the area where Mount Palmer is). Whatever it was, the name is quite appropriate. Tanjong Pagar is indeed a cape of stakes today … it is now dominated by the stakes of modern Singapore – the skyscrapers that we see in the area today.

Modern "stakes" now dominate the Tanjong Pagar area.


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4 responses

28 05 2010
Daily SG: 28 May 2010 « The Singapore Daily

[…] Pagar Railway Station – The Long and Winding Road: Blood and politics at the Cape of Stakes – Bernama Shahrir: Ridiculous To Pretend KTM Land In Singapore Is Malaysian Territory – The Star: A […]

28 05 2010
James Seah

I enjoy this informative and historical educational blog, esp about the fable of Bukit Merah. My daughter once participated many years ago in a Chinese youth drama group for the stage title of the same name.

29 05 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for your feedback, James! 🙂

29 05 2010
Weekly Roundup: Week 22 « The Singapore Daily

[…] – Free Malaysia Today: Did Najib swap KTM land to settle RM363b debt? – The Long and Winding Road: Blood and politics at the Cape of Stakes – Bernama Shahrir: Ridiculous To Pretend KTM Land In Singapore Is Malaysian Territory – The Star: A […]

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