Issue TWELVE / July 2018
MNEMOZINE The Nus History Magazine
A Student publication of the nus History society
FEATURING The Craft of Javanese Batik The Construct of Art History Kueh, Kitschified Coffee with the Tiger
Editorâ€™s Note â€œTradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fires.â€? Gustav Mahler, AustroBohemian conductor, 1910. In line with the above quote, this issue and editorial note have deviated slightly from Mnemozine tradition. Issue 12 came a little behind schedule and was published after Issue 13. The Mnemozine team also underwent a revamp in internal structure, producing two chief editors instead of just one. Despite these seemingly drastic changes and breaking of conventions, the editorial team still maintains the two main purposes of Mnemozine: as a platform for student writers to share their ideas and spark debate about the topics within. Nonetheless, we hope this copy of Mnemozine attests to the fervour of every single editor, writer, designer, and reader in sustaining the publication of Mnemozine. In the creation of Mnemozine 12, the editorial team racked their brains for a new theme per modus operandi. How could we keep in line with what Mnemozine had done so far, yet still innovate in this issue? We believe this dilemma continues to plague many writers and editors. Fortunately, it also gave us the inspiration necessary for this magazine. How were traditions broken or sustained throughout the passing of time, and for what reasons? The theme seemed incredibly apt for a History magazine, for traditions were the products and survivors of time passed. We were ecstatic to have found something so befitting of the major. In this issue we endeavored to address the many facets of tradition all the while attempting to keep matters close to heart by examining various practices and cultures of our island home and the surrounding region. A sufficient and thorough discussion of the theme led us to first question the very origins of traditions themselves; a matter not commonly thought of as the weaving of traditions with history and culture has led them to assume an almost timeless existence. By
examining the familiar Singaporean practice of yearly national day songs (Xin Lin), we have introduced the phenomenon of invented traditions to dispel common misconceptions surrounding the origins of traditions. From Javanese Batik printing (Diyanah) to the traditions of Reformation England (Joseph), we have attempted to familiarise our readers with a wide range of traditions across cultural borders, all the while encouraging them to find the underlying threads of similarities between them. Finally, in discussions of tutu kuehs (Joshua), we address the divisive issue of tradition and modernity and the relationship between these two forces from seemingly opposing worlds. Because this issue has been beset with difficulties, we are immensely thankful for the continuous support of our writers, the Mnemozine 12 team of designers and editors and all those who have contributed to the publication of this issue in one way or another. Due to scheduling difficulties, the articles in this issue have been kept with minimal editing, and are thus in a slightly raw form. Furthermore, we would like to thank Zhen Ye, an editor who kindly volunteered to help compile and redesign all articles for Mnemozine 12. As we, the new editorial team, take over the reins, we hope to do justice to the hard work of so many seniors that have come before us, such that we might sustain this illustrious tradition for future batches of writers and designers. Mnemozine 12 Editorial Team
An Invented Tradition: National Day Songs in Singapore
The Craft of Javanese Batik
Power, piety and tradition in Reformation England
Wee Xin Lin
Diyanah Nasuha Bte Omar Bahri
The Construct of Art History
From Traditio to Tradition: The Invention of Tradition as a Domineering Presence
Goh Ngee Chae Joshua
Coffee with the Tiger
Goh Seng Chuan Joshua
Interview with Professor Ann Wee by Yeng Fai
Mnemozine 12 Editorial Team Alexandra Moosa Alexandra Moosa is a first year History Major with an interest in East Asian and European history. She enjoys writing and hopes to continue exploring the various concepts, growth and development of and surrounding these regions.
Tan Jia Yi Jia Yi is a first year History major. She is an avid Victorian lit lover, especially the cheesy Gothic ones (feel free to donate them to her). Otherwise, she can usually be found whining about the hot weather or working furiously on her German because it is frankly terrible.
Ang Zhen Ye Zhen Ye is a second year History major who aspires to be a full-time sloth. On the days which he isnâ€™t sleeping, he can be found in AS8 reading and enjoying a good cup of coffee. His interests lie in hunting for good coffee and food, as well as listening to and playing music.
Wee Xin Lin Xin Lin is a first year History major. When sheâ€™s not studying history, she enjoys reading detective novels and watching films. She also plays with NUS Wind Symphony and spends most of her free time making music.
Chng Shao Kai Shao Kai is a third year History major. Mnemozine has been his first passion in NUS, where he served previously as Chief Editor. He is an avid photographer who loves to turn shutters into shudders.
Isaac Hong Hong Wei En, Isaac is a Year 1 History major at the National University of Singapore. Passionate about music, he enjoys performing unique renditions of classic songs. To him, the simple things in life are the best; porridge and a cuppa on a rainy day, divine.
An Invented Tradition: National Day Songs in Singapore Wee Xin Lin | firstname.lastname@example.org
of Singapore history. This portrayal provides the practice with legitimacy to be adopted by society. In addition, the active role played by state actors is what underpins this shaping of local history. This top-down approach of an invented tradition sets it apart from real traditions, which do not need to be grafted on to society as they originate from deep historical and cultural roots. Established in 1980, “Operation Singalong” thus signifies the inception of this invented tradition.
An “invented tradition” as defined by Hobsbawm and Ranger, comprises of constructed practices of a symbolic nature that are perceived as being deeply rooted in the past.1 The origins of these invented traditions are usually difficult to trace. However, they are quickly adopted and entrenched within society.2 These practices serve a purpose and are often effective tools used by the state to create a sense of national identity and unity. In this vein, the yearly affair of the National Day Parade songs in Singapore (NDP songs) can be considered to be an invented tradition in its own right – primarily because of the tradition’s portrayal
The shaping of history for such an endeavour could not have been done without the active role of the state. Such state involvement was necessary if one examines the largescale objectives of using traditions to create a national identity. The establishment of “Operation Singalong” was in line with the aim of national-building where it was perceived that the singing of national songs would foster a sense of camaraderie amongst Singaporeans.3 The various wings of the state apparatus were employed in the promotion of these national songs to the public. For instance, individuals from the People’s Association were mobilised with extensive state sponsorship to ensure that the songs took root amongst the grassroot communities.4 During the promotion of the song “Stand Up for Singapore” (1984), 2000 song sheets were distributed island-wide and the New York Philharmonic was directed for a rendition of the song at the National Stadium.5 Ordinary citizens also played a role and were direct by the state to participate in the process. Famous local singers such as
Anita Sarawak, Kartini Dahari, along with the choir from Cedar Girls’ Secondary School were employed to create different versions of the same songs.6 Getting the public involved allows them to better connect with the songs, aiding in the process of instilling these songs within society where they are regarded as being symbolic of the nation. “Operation Singalong” revealed how history was shaped through the establishment of fictitious historical links and an emphasis on defining historical experiences. The establishment of a fictitious link to a Singaporean historical past is an essential component in the creation of an invented tradition, one with distinguishes it from other traditions.7 As a real historical past is lacking, one must be fabricated for these traditions to appear as being authentic. When “Operation Singalong” first began, its organisers were faced with a severe shortage of local songs. Thus, they resorted to the use of familiar but non-local songs that were already established within Singaporean culture and changed their lyrics to suit the Singaporean context.8 For instance, national songs such as “Chan Mali Chan” and “Singapura, Sunny Island” are in fact Indonesian folk songs. This borrowing process constituted an attempt at creating some form of historical origin where the established songs were presented as having always existed in their current form in society. Being subsumed under the official ethnic divisions (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others), many have simply received them as being part of Singapore’s ethnic diversity and multiculturalism, oblivious to their evident lack of authenticity. Conversely, whatever history that exists has been “conveniently glossed over as a period of hardship”.9 The first verse of “We Are Singapore” (1987) tells of “a time when people said Singapore [wouldn’t] make it”. This period of hardship could refer to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965 where uncertainty seemed to prevail. One might even recall the image of our former Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, breaking down in tears on national television for he too had reservations about Singapore’s survival amidst such trying circumstances. The emphasis on Singapore’s difficult beginnings naturally makes the nation’s subsequent growth and success all the more impressive. The subsequent tone of defiance Endnotes
towards our sceptics in the repetition of the phrase “but we did” then serves to instil a sense of national pride and unity amongst Singaporeans. It was perceived to have been us against the world and due to some form of Singaporean exceptionalism, we were capable of surmounting what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles. Consequently, a selective approach towards history serves to legitimise invented traditions by simultaneously blurring and emphasising chosen components of our national experiences. This ultimately serves the purpose of rooting these practices within society where they are eventually adopted as being a real tradition. In conclusion, the degree to which the practice has been rooted in our society is proof of its credentials as a tradition. Songs from the original campaign such as “Stand Up for Singapore” (1985) and “Count on me, Singapore” (1986) are now regarded as “NDP classics” sung yearly at the mass sing-along sessions during the Parade.10 No longer are they songs merely sanctioned by the government but songs which the public have come to recognise as being representative of the nation.11 Though such artificial methods in creating a national identity might be controversial, they can be especially useful for young fledging nations such as Singapore where cohesive elements are absent in uniting the population. So perhaps we need Hello, I’m Xin Lin, not be so concerned about the a Year 1 History origins and authenticity of our major. When I’m traditions as invented tradition not doing history, can become real traditions over I enjoy reading time. The willing belief of sociedetective novels ty in the values represented by and watching films. these practices sustains these I also play with NUS invented traditions over time as Wind Symphony state control diminishes, makand spend most of ing them no different from their my free time making more authentic counterparts. music.
Eric Hobsbawm and Terrance Ranger, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 1. Ibid. 3 Tan Suat Lian, “Let Singapore sing,” The Straits Times, August 9, 1980, assessed September 5, 2017, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19800809-188.8.131.52. 4 Ibid. 5 Shirley Tan, “Unveiled- song for Singapore,” The Straits Times, May 31, 1984, assessed September 26, 2017, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19840531-184.108.40.206. 6 Tan Suat Lian, “Let Singapore sing,” The Straits Times, August 9, 1980, assessed September 5, 2017, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19800809-220.127.116.11. 7 Tay Hong Yi, “2017’s NDP song: Because It’s Singapore! Part of Long Tradition,” The Straits Times, May 17, 2017, assessed September 5, 2017, http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/2017s-ndp-song-because-its-singaporepart-of-long-tradition. 8 Tan Suat Lian, “Let Singapore Sing,” The Straits Times, August 9, 1980, assessed September 5, 2017, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19800809-18.104.22.168. 9 Shzr Ee Tan, “Manufacturing and the Consuming Culture: Fakesong in Singapore,” British Forum for Ethnomusicology, Vol 14, No. 1 (June 2015). Assessed September 27, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/ stable/20184502?origin=JSTOR-pdf. 10 Terence Lee, “Popular Cultural Policy: National Day and National songs in Singapore,” Australian Journal of Communication 29, 2002. Assessed September 27, 2017. 11 “National songs are ‘symbols of identity’ for Singaporeans,” The Straits Times, August 28, 2009, assessed September 5, 2017, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes20090828-22.214.171.124.2. 1 2
The Craft of
The art of wax-resist dyeing of fabric goes as far back to the early Sumerians and Egyptians, where its origins are difficult to trace, stretching as far as the Middle East, India, and China. Textile traditions have been particularly rich throughout the Malay Archipelago for centuries, where they fulfil social, practical, and even spiritual obligations for its peoples.1 In particular, the textile tradition of batik is closely related to the Javanese, reaching its peak in craftsmanship and artistry in the courts of Central Java in terms of pattern and design.2 With diverse patterns influenced by a variety of cultures, the intricate and often exquisite patterns and designs are not simply figurative but inherently symbolic to the Javanese as well.3 Batik, known as the art of decorating fabric, is created through a dyeing method that uses a wax-resist technique which produces intricate patterns onto cloth. The word ‘batik’ itself is of Javanese etymological origin, derived from the Javanese word ‘ambatik’ which means “a cloth with little dots”.4 While the origins of batik remain unclear, the fact that batik was most developed and has the longest history of acculturation within Java still remains. The diversity of Java and the dynamism of its coastal region had enabled for the assimilation of numerous inspirations that were drawn from various sources, while maintaining a distinct form of Javanese aestheticism. Dye-resistant material, usually malam (wax), is applied to the surface of the cloth. Then, the waxed cloth is immersed into a dye bath. The cloths are waxed using a canting, a copper crucible that has a single or a few spouts attached to a bamboo handle. Intricate and
Diyanah Nasuha Bte Omar Bahri email@example.com
delicate patterning is attributed to the usage of the canting, allowing for the production of hand-drawn Javanese batiks, called batik tulis (hand-drawn batik), which may take weeks or even years to complete a single piece.5 A cap, a wax printing handheld stamp or block which is usually made out of copper, may also be used.6 The parts of the cloth that have been waxed will be protected from the dye, which leaves a pattern or a motif on the cloth where the unwaxed segments of the cloth absorb. This process may be repeated a few more times using dye baths of different colours. Catering to the tastes of both domestic and foreign populations, batik-makers experimented with different dyes and technical innovations to produce distinctive regional designs and styles of batik. Previously only flourishing in the early courts of Surakarta and Yogyakarta at the hands of noblewomen and artisans, batik that were produced in these principalities are often referred to as the batik pendalaman (inland batik) that are distinct due to their tri-colour scheme of soga (deep yellow-brown), white (or cream) and indigo blue.7 In the past, the sultans of Central Java had proscribed certain batik patterns, called larangan (forbidden), for the exclusive use of the royalty and their relatives.8 Javanese animistic and geometric batik motifs of these batik klasik (classical batik) that cocok (harmonise) iconographic elements from the various religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam have remained fairly unchanged and resistant to stylistic acculturation in terms of their colours and patterns.9 This is in marked contrast with the syncretisation of batik along the cities of Pekalongan, Lasem, and
Cirebon, located along the Northern Coast of Java. Distance from the codified courts of Central principalities allowed for freer artistic licenses of batik pesisiran10 (coastal batik), being produced more for commercial purposes by the Chinese, Arabs and Europeans11 who eventually settled and intermarried with locals, spawning sizeable ethnic groups like and the Indische and the Peranakans.
Not only were these fine textiles much soughtafter commodities valued for prestige, batik also had ritualistic, political, and economic significance throughout the region. The knowledge and interpretations of batik symbolism relating to the socio-political order of these courts and the role of batik within Javanese rituals, rites, and social reciprocity largely remain in the domain of the aristocracy of the Central Javanese court.14 Representing aspects of Javanese cosmology and spirituality, batik halus too convey subliminal messages and prayers through its chronogram motifs which serve as mediums of visual communication.15 Even the laborious process of waxing is made through the process of kewahyon, requiring one to ‘empty’ their souls in order to receive inspiration during the spiritually meditative process.16
Batik contains special socio-cultural significance for the courts of Central Java, inherited from the Indianised period of the history of Indonesia. Till today, the keraton (courts) of Surakarta and Yogyakarta remain as the cultural centres of Hindu-Javanese culture even after the Islamisation of Indonesia. Batik, along with gamelan music, wayang kulit (shadow puppet play) and other art forms constitute the halus (fine) classical arts under the royal patronage of these introspective courts.12 Due to the desire to maintain batik as a status symbol, strict regulations had been imposed on the use of batik with proscribed patterns.13 Thus, within the Central Javanese principalities, batik cloth had been a luxury item which was reserved as daily attire for royalty and nobility.
While its symbolic significance and tradition have waned over the centuries, exquisitely detailed batik are still sought after and collected by Indonesian elite and foreign collectors as objects to be admired, instead of being used in ceremonial rituals or worn exclusively by the royalty as in the past.
Diyanah Nasuha is a fourth year Global Studies major who is currently doing an extended internship with the NUS Museum as a curatorial assistant for the exhibition, “Always Moving”: The Batik Art of Sarkasi Said.
Endnotes 1 Maxwell, Robyn. Textiles of Southeast Asia: Trade, Tradition and Transformation. Tuttle Publishing, 2012. 2 Hitchcock, Micheal, and Wiendu Nuryanti. Building on Batik: The Globalization of a Craft Community. Ashgate, 2000. 3 Stephenson, Nina. “The Past, Present, and Future of Javanese Batik: A Bibliographic Essay.” In Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America 12, no. 3 (Fall 1993): 107. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27948560. 4 Waworuntu, Mariah. “Indonesian Batik: Identity, Symbolism and Textile Communication.” Accessed August 24, 2017, http://www.academia. edu/14948401/. 5 Stephenson, 107. 6 Brenner, Suzanne April. The Domestication of Desire: Women, Wealth, and Modernity in Java. Princeton University Press, 2012, 35.
Stephenson, 109. Waworuntu, 2. Stephenson, 109. 10 Sekimoto, Teruo. “Batik as a Commodity and a Cultural Object.” In Globalization in Southeast Asia: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives, edited by Shinji Yamashita and Jeremy Seymour Eades. Berghahn Books, 2003, 118. 11 Waworuntu, 8-9. 12 Stephenson, 109. 13 Ibid., 11. 14 Ibid., 11. 15 Ibid., 11. 16 Valentina, Jessicha, and Asmara Wreksono. “Batik: A Cultural Dilemma of Infatuation and Appreciation.” The Jakarta Post, accessed August 24, 2017, http:// www.thejakartapost.com/ longform/2016/11/29/batik-a-cultural-dilemma-ofinfatuation-and-appreciation.html. 7 8 9
Joseph Poon | firstname.lastname@example.org The Protestant Reformation, at 500 years old this October, is widely credited with irrevocably changing European society and shaping the modern world.1 Of particular interest is England, whose reformation resulted in a national church unique in all Europe, the Anglican church that describes itself as both Catholic and Reformed.2 This article shall explore the accompanying political and social tensions that underpinned the English Reformation’s break with the Catholic tradition of papal authority. Tradition, as understood in this article, includes continuity of institutions, practices, or doctrine with pre-Reformation Catholicism. Under consideration shall be the period from 1517, the conventional date for the start of the Reformation under Martin Luther till 1563 when the present form of the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion which defined the beliefs of the Church was published. This paper argues that the break with papal authority in England was a primarily institutional break with tradition, with much of pre-reformation Catholic practice and doctrine remaining in the English church even after that.
The defining institutional mark of the Reformation, the rejection of papal authority over the church, was arguably driven in England by the figure of Henry VIII. The Pope’s claim to succeed the apostle Peter as bishop of Rome drew bitter criticism as Catholic reformers such as Desiderius Erasmus, in equal measure with English Protestants,3 satirised individual popes’ abuses of power and ostentatious wealth as unbecoming of Peter’s successors.4 Crucially, however, where Catholics continued to recognise the institution of papal authority despite such abuses, the Church of England signalled its definitive break with Catholicism by enshrining its wholesale denial of papal authority in the Articles of Religion.5 Although seeming to reflect the reformers’ equation of the papacy with the anti-christ,6 the rejection of papal authority had however been driven not by such doctrinal concerns but by the political and personal priorities of an English monarch. Henry VIII’s hostility to Protestant doctrines had in fact been demonstrated in his 1521 written condemnation of Martin Luther’s ideas, leading the Pope to style
Henry ‘Defender of the Faith’.7 Even when, from 1526, Henry had sought to end his marriage with Catherine of Aragon to stave off domestic political dissent, he attempted for more than six years to have papal authority annul the marriage.8 It was Pope Clement VII’s refusal, as a captive of Catherine’s nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine pushed Henry to desperation.9 Coupled with Henry’s desires to wed Anne Boleyn and obtain a male heir as a legitimate political successor to the throne, the papal refusal finally prompted Henry to have himself set up as head of the English church in 1534 through the Act of Supremacy, discarding the institution of Papal authority.10 Such a record consequently illustrated that the Church of England’s abandonment of papal authority stemmed less from the spread and adoption of Protestant views than from Henry’s concerns for political stability and personal affections. Even after the break with papal authority, the Church of England continued to retain much preReformation tradition into the
reign of Queen Elizabeth. On their part, the bishops of England had been persuaded on primarily political grounds to support the break with the papacy under Henry VIII, out of concern that English religious life might be influenced by Charles who was seen as England’s enemy.11 Institutionally, and unlike Protestant churches that had abolished the office of bishop,12 the Church of England retained its episcopal structure and holy orders from pre-reformation days, with English bishops in Elizabeth’s time vigorously defending the validity of their ordination against Catholic charges of irregularity.13 Doctrinally, initial continuity was demonstrated by the Six Articles of 1539, which reaffirmed key Catholic doctrine on the mass and priestly celibacy,14 and
even in changes on key doctrines like that on the Eucharist efforts were made to steer a middle course between Catholicism and extreme Protestantism.15 Where change was finally effected on pre-reformation practice, more extreme Protestant proposals for banning practices like making the sign of the cross were defeated,16 with many preReformation practices like choral singing in cathedrals retained with slight modification.17 Moreover, even in 1563, it was observed that knowledge of pre-reformation Catholic doctrine, let alone its Protestant counterparts, was poor,18 and that in some areas attendance at unofficial Catholic masses continued to outstrip that of the Church of England.19 Such evidence points to the limited transformation that
Endnotes Diarmaid MacCulloch and Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: the first three thousand years (New York: Penguin, 2011), 605. 2 Richard H. Schmidt, Glorious companions: five centuries of Anglican spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002), xiii. 3 Ibid., 19-20. 4 “Week 7: Erasmus, Julius Excluded hom Heaven (1514).” UCSB Department of History . Accessed August 21, 2017. http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/lansing/classes/hist4b/materials/Week7.pdf. 5 “Articles of Religion.” The Church of England. Accessed August 13, 2017. https://www. churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/articles-of-religion.aspx. 6 Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg, and Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper. Lectures on modern history. London: Collins, 1960, 105. 7 “Defender of the faith,” Encyclopædia Britannica, accessed August 21, 2017, https://www. britannica.com/topic/defender-of-the-faith 8 Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg, and Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper. Lectures on modern history. London: Collins, 1960, 136-137. 9 Diarmaid MacCulloch and Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: the first three thousand years (New York: Penguin, 2011), 625. 10 Lehmberg, Stanford E. The reformation of cathedrals: cathedrals in English society, 1485-1603. Princeton University Press, 2014, 67-68. 11 Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg, and Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper. Lectures on modern history. London: Collins, 1960, 140. 12 Diarmaid MacCulloch and Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: the first three thousand years (New York: Penguin, 2011), 638. 1
the break with the papacy effected on English religious life and on the Church of England up till 1563. In sum, the English Reformation, marked by Henry’s politically-driven institutional break with the papacy, had a restricted impact in changing the doctrine and practice of English religious life in the period examined. Doctrinally, institutionally, and in its practices, the Church retained much of its pre-reformation heritage that left it much closer to Catholicism than most Protestant churches. The continuing vitality of pre-reformation tradition led an observer to comment that ‘the Catholic clergy had therefore to sustain, and Protestants to convert’,20 showing the English Reformation to be little more than a change in name in this period.
Hurst, John F. . “The Elizabethan Settlement of the Church of England.” The American Journal of Theology Vol. 3, no. No. 4 (October 1899): 686. The Catholic doctrine of the apostolic succession – that the validity of a church is determined 14 Unknown. “The Six Articles .” Luminarium.org. July 16, 2010. Accessed August 14, 2017. 15 “Articles of Religion.” The Church of England. Accessed August 13, 2017. https://www. churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/articles-of-religion.aspx. The Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, is a re-enactment of the last supper that Jesus had with his disciples before his Cruxificion. On that occasion Jesus took bread and wine and said to his disciples that ‘This is my body, broken for you’ and ‘This is my blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins’. Catholic doctrine held that during the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine were turned into Jesus’ physical body and blood in a process of transubstantiation, making Jesus physically present and the Eucharist the centre of Catholic worship. The more extreme Protestants asserted that the communion bread and wine were merely symbols, shifting the entire focus of their worship. The 39 Articles, while rejecting the validity of transubstantiation, reject equally the notion of pure symbolism and assert that Jesus is spiritually present in the communion elements. 16 Hurst, John F. . “The Elizabethan Settlement of the Church of England.” The American Journal of Theology Vol. 3, no. No. 4 (October 1899): 684. 17 Stringer, Martin D. A sociological history of Christian worship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 189. 18 Haigh, Christopher. “The Continuity of Catholicism in the English Reformation.” Past & Present, no. No. 93 (November 1981): 40. 19 Ibid., 44. 20 Ibid., 69. 13
The Construct of
Suzie Shin email@example.com
Attempting to discuss art in Singapore through the lens of tradition is a confusing and potentially problematic endeavour. People today can understand ‘traditional arts’, which the National Arts Council recognises as different forms of performance art categorised by major ethnic groups.1 In terms of visual arts, we are more familiar with batik, calligraphy and Peranakan tiles, which have in many ways become a commodified cultural heritage or a ‘dying art’ memorialised in video shorts2 or exhibitions premised on preservation efforts.3 However, we have to understand that art is never static – it grows from communities of people in specific contexts and it is nurtured from the priceless, immaterial energy of time. The real difficulty is in constructing a coherent art history from all of this, an endeavour that was not seriously taken on the government-cumnational institution level until very recently. The pursuit for Singapore’s own art history materialised in the imposing construction of the National Gallery of Singapore in 2015 and the official inauguration of the Art History minor at the National University of Singapore in April 2017.4 Within the echoing expanse of the National Gallery, the tradition of ‘art’ in Singapore is largely defined by the legacy of the Nanyang painting style and the establishment of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1938.5 A coherent beginning to Singapore’s art history begins with names like Georgette Chen and Cheong Soo Pieng.6 Interestingly, NGS Senior
Curator Seng Yu Jin responds to this narrative in his lecture series by giving authority to individual communities and societies in the construction of Singapore’s art history and tradition.7 This discussion is not just about understanding the construction of ‘Singaporean art’ today, but it is also a reminder of the importance of continuous, active engagement with art, society and culture. We must not be dampened by the enforcement of silence and stillness in galleries and lecture halls. A strong aspect of ‘tradition’ that could be gleaned from Seng’s lecture series was the theme of gotong royong (spirit of helping one another) in the 1960s and 70s. Gotong royong was not just a socio-political agenda in Singapore society to consolidate
communities and a sense of identity under the kampung spirit. It was also prevalent in the principles of many art societies that were the only existing spaces for shared resources, information, and most importantly, a space that could help artists form their own exhibitions and events to the public. Art societies began as ethnic-based collectives such as the Society of Chinese Artists (1935), Malay Art Society (1949) and Indian Fine Arts Society (1949).8 At a time with zero institutional help, these groups formed exclusively to raise the standards of art making. Later on, the more inclusive Singapore Art Society (1949) came to the fore, the biggest society right now, which became very influential in being able to organise
exhibitions, sales of artworks and even referral letters for students to get scholarships abroad.9 At the same time, the SAS pursued the construction of a national culture, something that was promoted by the British in the decolonization process.10 Another notable development is the emergence of the Equator Arts Society, which emphasised the importance of depicting the working class as a true marker of reality and pursuit of Singaporean art identity. While their exhibitions drew many student associations and trade unions, nevertheless, they were dissolved by the government along with other cultural associations that were flagged as ‘satellite Communist organisations’ in the late 1960s and 70s.11 This tradition of helping one another was disrupted after the 1960s with the slow disbanding of these societies, as the government was able to play a more active role in the construction and consolidation of the ‘arts’ in Singapore, and the influence of societies waned in the much larger and more individually driven art scene that we are more familiar with today. The last active art society was The Artists Village, a collective of artists who engaged with experimental art and radical ideas from the kampung space of a farmturned-shared studio.12 Members of The Artists Village such as Amanda Heng, Lee Wen, Juliana Yasin, Tang Da Wu, remain central individuals in the formation of contemporary art today. Tradition is all about taking time for knowledge to be passed down and cultivated in its own forms. Tradition
or the ‘traditional’ cannot exist without change, or active human response to change. There may be more artists seeking their own individual paths under institutional help, and there may be so many more opportunities now but that does not mean it is perfect. The issue is that the very nature of art goes against conventional understandings of ‘tradition’, and it requires active participation, discussions, debates, creations by real people in real-time to keep our understanding of ‘art’ alive. Let people speak what they want and with each other. Be bold and do things – keep the momentum going outside shiny gallery walls.
Be bold and do things – keep the momentum going outside shiny gallery walls.
Suzie is an Art History-turned-History major in her third year. She tries to spend as much time in art spaces and open spaces for general health purposes. Currently she is working on an online platform for young artists in Singapore (www.x-online.sg).
Endnotes National Arts Council, Traditional Arts, NAC, 2015, retrieved from https://www.nac.gov.sg/singaporeartsscene/traditionalarts.html See CNA Insider and Our Grandfather Story. Singapore Tourism Board (2015), Craft: Singapore, “STB present a showcase of traditional and contemporary crafts found in Singapore’s precincts,” retrieved from https://www.stb.gov.sg/news-andpublications/lists/newsroom/dispform.aspx?ID=590. 4 Reena Devi, “NUS launches minor in art history in collaboration with National Gallery,” Today, 8 Apr 2017, retrieved from https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/curators-national-gallery-will-belecturers-programme-which-currently-has-87-students. 5 Noorhayati bt Mohd Ismail (ed.), “The Singapore Art World: A System of Networks” in Crossroads: The Making of New Identities, NUS Museums, 2004, pp. 9. 6 Ibid, pp. 11. 7 Seng Yu Jin, The Power of Multitude: A Survey of Artists’ Collectives in Singapore from 1935-1988 in Gallery Lectures at National Gallery of Singapore, Aug 13 2017. 8 Ismail, pp. 10-11. 9 Seng Yu Jin, The Power of Multitude: A Survey of Artists’ Collectives in Singapore from 1935-1988 in Gallery Lectures at National Gallery of Singapore, Aug 13 2017. 10 Ibid. 11 Seng Yu Jin, From Words to Pictures: Art During The Emergency 24 Aug – 31 Oct 2007, Singapore Art Museum, 2007, p. 48-52. 12 Singapore Art Museum, The Artists Village: 20 Years On, Singapore Art Museum & The Artists Village, 2009. 1 2 3
The Invention of Tradition as a Domineering Presence
Goh Ngee Chae Joshua E0026316@u.nus.edu
Tradition occupies an extremely ambivalent place in modern society. On one hand, the hegemonic ‘myth of progress’ exhorts us to discard this useless relic to make way for innovation and improvement.1 On the other hand, we still feel compelled to retain tradition, whose continued existence is justified with hazy notions of posterity. Far
from the whims of our sentimental impulses, our reluctance to do away with tradition reflects the domineering presence of tradition. In fact, we are so intimidated by this presence that our aggressive anti-tradition rhetoric exposes us. When we speak of “breaking from tradition”, we imagine tradition as a strong shackle to which we
are chained to. When we speak of “going against tradition”, we imagine tradition as an unstoppable current that we must swim against. Unsurprisingly, many century social theorists domineering presence of inherently oppressive. sociologist Max Weber,
19th find the tradition To the tradition
is a type of political authority that is reinforced unconsciously by “ingrained habitation”. Being “a course which has been repeatedly followed”, tradition becomes nothing more than an “automatic reaction to habitual stimuli”.2 Karl Marx goes one step further by declaring that “the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living” who would otherwise be “engaged in revolutionizing things”.3 Many have sought to explain the domineering presence of tradition by reading tradition an ancestral inheritance. Noting that the Latin term “traditio” constitutes the etymological root of the modern day concept of tradition, they assert that the invulnerability of tradition has to do with Roman inheritance law.4 According to historian David Gross, Roman inheritance laws are known as “traditio” as they deal with the transfer (“tradere”)
of valuable goods from one person to another. Treated as a ‘gift’ from a benefactor, the recipient was “expected to keep it intact and unharmed out of a sense of obligation to the giver”. This “sense of obligation” arose from the need to respect the memory and wishes of the benefactor.5 While the legal force of “traditio” was never extended to the sphere of cultural practices and customs, we still feel an undeniable moral obligation to preserve old customs and practices inherited from our ancestors. Unfortunately, a quasi-legal sense of moral obligation does not adequately explain the domineering presence of tradition. While moral obligation may have indeed given us a sentimental attachment to tradition, it definitely lacks the means to enforce an unquestioning subordination to tradition. How then did the domineering presence of tradition come about?
The “authoritative presence” of tradition only became overbearing with the rise of Christian theological discourse in the late Roman Empire.
Key to answering this question would be what legal scholar Kygler calls “the authoritative presence of the past”. To Kygler, “the authoritative presence of the past” was necessary to legitimize the existence of traditions in the present.6 Even if the ancientness of a particular tradition is as decidedly inauthentic as Hobsbawm’s “invented traditions”, the mere veneer of ancientness was enough to legitimize the tradition. It is thus unsurprising that “invented traditions” like the Scottish kilt have been unthinkingly accepted and even mistaken for genuinely ‘old’ traditions. By appearing to be based upon an ancient “immemorial past”, these “invented traditions” are legitimized through “the sanction of precedent, social continuity and natural law as expressed in history”.7 At first glance, the “authoritative presence” and domineering presence of tradition appear to have little in common. The latter demands unthinking obedience while the former only commands us to confer legitimacy upon tradition. Yet, the disjuncture between the domineering and “authoritative presence” of tradition is not a
coincidence. For it represents a seismic shift from the ancient Roman notion of “traditio” to the modern sense of tradition. Outside the stuffy confines of Roman civil law, “traditio” was most commonly used to denote the “handing down of knowledge” by teaching.8 Yet, even as the authority of the teacher was unsurprisingly inviolable, the transmission of knowledge was far from an uncritical affair. In fact, many Roman intellectuals came up with creative discursive strategies to critique their sources of knowledge while acknowledging their authority. For example, in Attic Nights, the second century grammarian Aulus Gellius had to choose between the various strands of “traditio” purveyed by his predecessors in order to write his etymological histories. Far from incorporating these traditions at face value, Gellius consciously discriminates and critiques his authorities. In an etymological discussion of “vestibulum” (forecourt), Gelius cites an “uncertain and vulgar tradition” which he had accepted as an authority “without investigating the matter”.9
Here, Gellius appears to have uncritically accepted a questionable tradition as his authority. Yet, the very act of labelling his authority as unreliable hearsay serves as a subversive warning for readers. The “authoritative presence” of tradition only became overbearing with the rise of Christian theological discourse in the late Roman Empire. While authority of tradition is not equivalent to those of the Holy Scriptures, the historical precedent of the church forefathers was taken to be an indisputable guide for a virtuous life. For example, the apostle Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “hold the traditions which you have been taught”.10 This notion of tradition was heavily influenced by the Hebrew usage of tradition as “the fence of the law”. Known as the “tradition of the elders”, the guide of historical precedent was used to show adherents how to follow the law of Torah.11 Even the most minor transgressions of this tradition were considered heretic as Jesus’s disciples found when they neglected to wash their hands before eating.12
Goh Ngee Chae Joshua is a second year history major. He is interested in applying close-reading techniques and critical theory to the study of historiography. His works can be found in https://independent.academia.edu/JoshuaGoh.
Endnotes Montague David Eder . “The Myth of Progress”. The British Journal of Medical Psychology. 12 (1932): 1 Max Weber. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology. (California: University of California Press, 1978), 25. Karl Marx. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. (New York: Cosimo Inc, 2008), 1 4 See for example Anthony Giddens, Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives, (New York: Routledge, 2003), 38-39. See also Simon J. Bronner, Explaining Traditions: Folk Behavior in Modern Culture, (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011), 15 5 David Gross, The Past in Ruins: Tradition and the Critique of Modernity, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009), 9 6 Martin Krygier, “Law as Tradition”. Law and Philosophy 5:2 (2002): 240-246 7 Eric Hobsbawm, Terence Ranger.eds. The Invention of Tradition, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 1-2 8 ““Tradition-onis”. OLD online. June 2017. Oxford University Press. 9 Gellius XIV.V: “sed incompertam et vulgariam traditionem rei non exploratae secuti “. Translation from Gellius. Attic Nights, Volume III: Books 14-20. Translated by J. C. Rolfe. Loeb Classical Library 212. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927145 10 2 Thessalonians 2:15. World English Bible. Revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. web. (Washington: Rainbow Missions, Inc., 1977). <http://ebible.org/bible/web> 11 Lamar Williamson, Mark, (Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1983), pg. 183 12 Mattew 15:2 World English Bible. Revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. web. (Washington: Rainbow Missions, Inc., 1977). <http://ebible.org/bible/web> 1 2 3
Goh Seng Chuan Joshua | firstname.lastname@example.org
http://www.thefarmstore.sg/product/SGS12-005B KUEH TUTU, A SINGAPOREAN DELIGHT FOR THE GREGARIOUS1 by DONN KOH Category: Accessories About the Object The fairest of all in the lineage of kuehs, the kueh tutu has skin as white as snow and a heart as sweet as coconut (although sometimes peanut). This fair beauty takes great effort to get ready: it squeezes itself into a metal corset and undergoes an intense steam treatment to mould its curves to all the right places. Always faithful to its favourite green cape, it is a delicious-hearted kueh after your own heart. S$54.00 FOR 4 | S$18.00 FOR 1
“Kueh Tutu, For the Gregarious,” The Farm Store, accessed September 26, 2017, http://www.thefarmstore.sg/product/SGS12-005B.
The advent of Singapore’s golden jubilee in 2015 sparked a fad for heritage merchandise that to date has yet to subside.1 From kopi siew dai keychains to dragon playground figurines, heritage-themed trinkets are all the rage. The humble kueh tutu is no exception – it has been transformed variously into cushions, rings, erasers, and even bags. Above all, it is perhaps its status an iconic Singaporean street snack that makes the kueh tutu uniquely suitable for this process of heritage merchandization. This is because “food evokes the past in ways unique to its material essence, especially when a cuisine and eating are integral to a group’s ability to articulate memories.”2 As Wong Hong Suen points out, history represented in this manner is made more imaginable, knowable, and ultimately more accessible.3
If heritage, however, is merely an “output of discursive appropriation of history”, what narratives do such a process of commodification conceal or elide?4 Should we accept Brian Graham’s contention that heritage merchandization is merely a form of “nostalgia pastiche”, offering simplistic representations of the past that end up trivializing history”?5 There are surely no easy answers. In this short article, I attempt, nevertheless, to unpack some representations of the kueh tutu and its past that can be found widely on online sites “hawking” its upscale cousins. How capable, if at all, are these trinkets in representing the “real environments of memory” of the kueh tutu seller and his craft?6 “…fairest of all in the lineage of kuehs…” In a blurb featuring its large green-
and-white kueh tutu plush cushion, www.thefarmstore.sg declares the kueh tutu to be an “essentially Singaporean delicacy”, likely to give one “sweet dreams”.7 Online retailer Naiise affirms, too, that this snack was historically “very popular”, and is still “much loved by all.”8 Delving deeper, however, one may discover that these heart-warming statements of marketing belie a more complex culinary heritage than first appears. A Straits Times opinion piece from 23 July 1987, for example, featured a reader who protested that the word tutu was a corrupted version of the Tamil word, putu.9 Beneath this semantic debate lay a more insidious question: what were the racial origins of this snack? The writer of the opinion piece mused: was kueh tutu, commonly seen as a “Chinese snack”, a mere variant of its Malay cousin, putu piring? Disagreement about the snack’s origins, moreover, also exist within the Chinese community. One account asserts that kueh tutu is a direct descendant of song gao, a traditional Fujian steamed rice cake.10 Another, however, claims the kueh to be a legacy of the Straits Chinese, the product of a Baba from Penang.11 Be it sinkeh innovation or Peranakan invention, it is clear the kueh tutu has a more contested heritage than often portrayed. “…a heart as sweet as coconut…” Integral to the kueh tutu’s image as a synecdoche of “the good old days”12 are its fillings of desiccated coconut or peanut, and their associated tastes. Portrayed as “traditional” fillings, these elements give kueh tutu its “corporeal essence”13 and perhaps explain why nouveau flavours such
as chocolate are often branded as inauthentic. Yet this idea of a timeless, “traditional” taste does not corroborate with historical sources. The most widespread account of the snack’s origins, for example, speaks of how filling kueh tutu with peanuts or coconuts was itself an innovation pioneered by the purported father of this snack, one Tan Yong Fa.14 The trademark “small size” of the kueh tutu, now cast by www.megafash. com as being perfect for “perfect erasing”,15 is similarly not a timeless tradition as one might imagine, for it is considerably smaller when compared to pre-war variants of this snack. “…it squeezes itself into a metal corset…” Perhaps equally worth interrogating are discourses of kueh tutu production on online shops and blogs that conjure up images of a sweet street snack steamed to perfection in “small stainless steel bowls”.16 Here, one finds traces of the romanticized hawker with his pushcart, and the associated notion that the onomatopoeic word tutu originated from the sound of the hawker’s steaming apparatus. Yet sources suggest that the concept of the mobile kueh tutu hawker, while a historical reality, may have been a novelty popularized only from the 1960s onwards. In two separate
steaming today themselves represent no hallowed tradition, for these evolved from earlier implements made from zinc, which would often rust, and thus had to be replaced easily.19 A larger question thus looms: can any form of local food be considered truly “traditional”, given that all are subject to a process of continuous evolution?
oral history interviews, two former kueh tutu hawkers attest to the fact that the sellers of this snack first began making their wares first at home in the 1930s, distributing premade kueh tutu to boys to peddle via baskets their shoulders.17 Only later did successors began to innovate, and hawk their wares on tricycles or pushcarts. The current iteration of an exteriorly-cool steam cart, however, was purportedly only designed in 1987, by businessmen Tay Low Long, who sought to revive what he felt was a dying trade.18 Moreover, the “small stainless steel bowls” used for
Like a Pandora’s Box, exploring the case of the “kitschified” kueh tutu has resulted in questions that go beyond this snack’s materiality.20 What role does local food play in the evocation of memory and how should we theorize its transformation into endearing knick-knacks sold to Singaporeans and tourists alike? As historians, should we abhor this process of heritage merchandization, or should we welcome it for possibly creating “desire, curiosity, and interest in learning more about (Singapore’s food) culture”?21 If we accept Maurizio Peleggi’s contention that nostalgia has become, in the present age, the primary vehicle for experiencing history through the twin acts of commodification and consumption,22 perhaps we ought to think more deeply about how that kueh tutu pillow – or dragon playground figurine – shapes our understanding of Singapore’s past.
Goh Seng Chuan Joshua is a Year 3 History and Geography major. Contrary to the musings penned in this article, he actual revels in collecting kitsch trinkets of local food culture when cost permits.
Endnotes 1 Natasha Ann Zachariah, “Fad for locally themed souvenirs going strong,” The Straits Times, September 9, 2017, http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/home-design/iconically-singapore. 2 Wong Hong Suen, “A taste of the past: Historically themed restaurants and social memory in Singapore,” in Food and Foodways in Asia: Resource, tradition and cooking, ed. Sidney C.H. Cheung and Tan CheeBeng (Routledge: New York, 2007), 123. 3 Ibid, 125. 4 Kelvin E.Y. Low, Remembering the Samsui Women: Migration and Social Memory in Singapore and China (Singapore: NUS Press, 2014), 70. 5 Brian Graham, “Heritage as Knowledge: Capital or Culture?” Urban Studies 39, no. 5 (May 2002): 1009. 6 Pierre Nora, “Between History and Memory: Les Lieux de Memoire,” Representations 26 (1989): 7. 7 “Kueh Tutu Cushion by Meykrs,” The Farm Store, accessed September 26, 2017, http://www.thefarmstore.sg/product/SSC16-005A. 8 “Kueh Tutu Eraser,” Naiise, accessed September 26, 2017, https://naiise.com/products/kueh-tutu-eraser?variant=333765023. 9 “Tutu, kutu, or putu”, The Straits Times, July 23, 1987, 3. 10 “Tan’s Tutu Coconut Cakes: Kueh Tutu is a Uniquely Singaporean Dish!” ieatishootipost, accessed September 26, 2017. http://ieatishootipost.sg/tans-tutu-coconut-cakes-kueh-tutu-is-a-uniquelysingaporean-dish/. 11 Tan Chin Kim, Oral History Interview with Jesley Chua Chee Huan, September 15, 1986. 12 “Kueh Tutu Sling Bag,” shopee, accessed September 26, 2017, https://shopee.sg/Kueh-Tutu-Sling-Bag-i.10211.6583296. 13 Wong, “A taste of the past,” 121. 14 Low Shu Ping, “Singapore loves Kueh Tutu, but do you know the origins of this popular snack?” The Peak Magazine, August 14, 2016. 15 “Kueh Tutu Eraser Gift Set (Set of 4),” Megafash, accessed September 26, 2017, https://www.megafash.com/products/kueh-tutu-eraser-gift-set-set-of-4. 16 “Kueh Tutu Cushion by Meykrs,” The Farm Store, accessed September 26, 2017, http://www.thefarmstore.sg/product/SSC16-005A. 17 Tan Chin Kim, Oral History Interview, 1986; Chia Kee Huat, Oral History Interview with Tan Beng Luan, November 3, 1983, National Archives of Singapore, A000358. 18 May Ho, “The kueh tutu lives on,” The Straits Times, July 2, 1987, 1. 19 Tan, Oral History Interview, 1986. 20 “Kitschification” is a term coined by Marita Sturken in her work Tourists of History: Souvenirs, Architecture, and the Kitschification of Memory (London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 18. 21 Jean Duruz and Gaik Cheng Khoo, Eating Together: Food, Space, and Identity in Malaysia and Singapore (Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2015), 170. 22 Maurizio Peleggi, The Politics of Ruins and the Business of Nostalgia (Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2002), 4.
Yeng Fai | email@example.com “So tell me, what is this article that you are writing about,” Prof. Ann Wee inquired of me at the start of our interview. It may seem ironic that a born-and-bred Singaporean turned to a lady who grew up in England to learn more about traditions in Singapore. However, she is more than qualified to enlighten me. Prof. Wee had lived in Singapore longer than I have been alive and is widely regarded as the “Mother of Social Work Education in Singapore.” In fact, Prof. Wee considered herself more Singaporean than British. Prof. Wee has been part of the NUS Social Work faculty since 1957 and was a former Head of Department. She also contributed towards starting a Honours programme for Social Work students. Her recently published memoir A Tiger Remembers: The Way We Were in Singapore is a compilation of anecdotes about her life in Singapore. She talks about her everyday experience working in the Social Work Department and how she had to adjust herself to the local culture. She gave herself the nickname ‘Tiger’ as she was born in the year of the Fire Tiger and prided herself for not having to face any difficulty in marrying into a Chinese family. Indeed, this nickname is befitting for someone who is a maverick in the Singaporean Social Work sector. Those who know her said that “having a conversation with Ann Wee is to enter a goldmine of oral history.”1
Prof. Wee was very excited to share her experience of seeing the birth and evolution of a much cherished Singaporean Chinese tradition: lou hei. During the Lunar New Year, friends and families in Chinese communities would gather round the dinner table and they would stir a large dish of sliced raw fish, finely chopped vegetables and assorted condiments while loudly exclaiming any blessings they desire. While many Singaporeans assumed that this was a timeless Chinese tradition, Prof. Wee shared that when she first arrived in Singapore, there were only two eateries near the Kreta Ayer area that served this dish. Indeed, lou hei was invented by the Lai Wah Restaurant in 1964.2 Prof. Wee remarked, “Traditions are invented as societies went along. But they are not evil. It is only human nature.” While her ability to speak the Malay language and Chinese dialects has already been well-documented, Prof. Wee also gleaned Singaporeans’ worldview and values through their everyday speech.3 In her book, she noticed that her Chinese colleagues never referred to their siblings by name. Instead, they referred to them as “my second brother” or “my third sister.” Prof. Wee interpreted this speech pattern as Chinese seeing themselves as “members of a structure rather than as named individuals.”4 While Singaporeans take many of their daily
speech and rituals for granted, it takes someone from another culture to point out our own unique traditions. When I jokingly remarked that she could consider herself a historian after publishing her recent books, Prof. Wee recalled an amusing anecdote concerning the History Department several decades ago. When her Honours students were planning to conduct their thesis research on the social environment of Chinese villages such as in Lim Chu Kang, Prof. Wee approached the History Department to help her students gain a historical perspective. However, since the students did not possess any government records to supplement their research, the History professors concluded that no research can be conducted. They felt that history research must be complemented with “credible sources.” Prof. Wee still believed that was a wasted opportunity for the memories of those villagers to be preserved. Having seen the nation grown from its infancy, Prof. Wee challenged us to reconsider our rhetoric about the “old age problem.” In her memoirs, Prof. Wee urged us not to “overlook the fact that underlying this is the wonderful fact of
long life, in dramatic contrast to the high rates of early deaths of children and young people” in the earlier part of the twentieth century.5 Despite being in her nineties, Prof. Wee is still making contributions to the scholarly community - her latest book Social Services as part of a 2016 series called “Singapore Chronicles” was co-written with Dr. Ho Chi Tim. Because of her influence on Singapore’s social service sector, she is also a great contributor to this slice of Singapore’s history. In Singapore’s plural society, Singaporeans might feel connected to some traditions but alienated by others. However, these associations do not remain static throughout one’s life. In her memoir, Prof. Wee showed that life in Singapore today has not always been like this. Practices we take for granted have a history of its own. Indeed, Prof. Wee has integrated into Singaporean society through her adoption of local traditions. A pair of astute eyes and a heart of empathy go a long way to bring people closer.
Yeng Fai is a Year Four History major. While he has found joy in uncovering the fervent activism of gender historians, he ultimately finds the most satisfaction reading Singapore’s history.
Endnotes 1 2 3 4 5
Singapore Children’s Society, Speaking of Children: The Singapore Children’s Society Collected Lectures (New Jersey: World Scientific, 2016), p.20. Nicole Tarulevicz, Eating Her Curries and Kway: A Cultural History of Food in Singapore (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2013), p.23. Melissa Sim, “Founding mother of social work”, Straits Times, 19 September 2011, p. C4. Ann Wee, A Tiger Remembers: The Way We Were in Singapore (Singapore: Ridge Books, 2017), p.48. Wee, A Tiger Remembers, p.18.
Wee has integrated into Singaporean society through her adoption of local traditions.
BLAST FROM THE PAST:
As the 52nd executive committee of the NUS History Society, our activities are driven by two objectives, to address the concerns of students and staff in the NUS history community, and to spread the interest of history beyond the classroom. I believe what we have done in the past year has brought us closer to achieving those goals. We hoped that as History and European studies students, you have enjoyed the perks of being part of a small, yet close-knit community, such as our semesterly welfare packs, the numerous activities conducted by our EXCO and Mnemozine, our biannual student-led publication. This year saw HISSOC continuing the legacy of its predecessors with new iterations of our signature events. On the home front, we had Detente 2017, a chalet for HISSOC members to bond and relax during the december break, and NUSTALGIA, which welcomed our incoming freshmen with a nostalgia-themed orientation camp. We have also continued Project Scribe, which imparted oral history skills to secondary school students and the Battle For Singapore tours in conjunction with NHB. This year also saw the introduction of new initiatives, such as our fortnightly online newsletter, which not only kept history/EU majors in the loop on upcoming HISSOC events, but also provided interesting bits of trivia to distract us from the rigours of academic work. What we accomplished as a society was only possible with the unwavering support of our fellow students and the staff of the NUS history department. Your attendance and willingness to volunteer is a testament to the close-knit nature of our small community, and we are immensely grateful for all the help that you have given us. On a personal note, I would like to express my gratitude to my exco members, Madeline, Alvina, Nabilah, Samuel, Sebastian, Douglas, Shao Kai, Jeremy and last but not least, Jonathan. Your commitment, perseverance, hard work and companionship were invaluable to the success of the 52nd EXCO, and I am honoured to have worked with you all. We wish our successors in the 53rd EXCO all the best in their aspirations and urge everyone to afford them the support you have given us. May HISSOC reach ever greater heights, for our numbers may be small, but our hearts are great.
Outgoing 52nd HISSOC Exco for AY2016/2017
Incoming 53rd HISSOC Exco for AY2017/2018