Thursday, April 18, 2013

Alternative Histories

We could be making Portuguese egg tarts, frying up tempura and speaking Singaporean Portuguese now... (Also another nail in the coffin for that myth of Raffles 'discovering' Singapore -- not to mention that the regional Malay princes and the Chinese already knew of it before the Europeans.)


Some extracts from Jaques de Coutre (a Portuguese diamond merchant), ‘Information about Building Some Castles and Fortresses in the Straits of Singapore and Other Regions of the South, etc.’ (1620s), a memorial addressed to King Philip III of Spain and Portugal. 

‘In the middle of the Singapore Straits there is an island [present-day Sentosa] ... this island forms a stone peak ... called Surgidera ... Your Majesty should order that a very strong citadel be built on this peak; all the vessels that pass through these Straits, through the Old Strait as well as the New Strait, stop and drop anchor around the said peak.’ 

‘It is necessary to build a second fortress or citadel in the Johor River estuary at the promontory of the Isla de La Sabandaria Vieja [present-day Singapore; around Changi]* ... The second citadel situated at the Johor River estuary and the first one at the Singapore Straits can lend each other assistance either by sea of by land ....Your Majesty ... should become the lord of this port, which is one of the best that serves the Indies. Your Majesty can build a city there and become the lord of this kingdom.’ 

(adapted from Peter Borschberg, The Singapore and Melaka Straits: Violence, Security and Diplomacy in the 17th Century (Singapore, 2010), pp. 245-8)

* This translates as 'Island of the Old Shahbandar's Compound'. I should note that the 'Shahbandar', a Persian term, was a port official of the Sultan of Johor, who supposedly had a compound here for the collection of dues and tolls. So Singapore was already a port of sorts, under the Johor sultanate, but we know regrettably little about it. Vieja is simply the Spanish word for 'old'. 

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