OUR HERITAGE: WHY IT MATTERS
Since our independence in 1965, we have been obsessed with how we should develop and define the Singaporean identity. For the longest time we have always asked: what does it mean, to be a Singaporean? It’s one that has underscored every decision our leaders have made for the nation, dominating discussions and binding every step we take towards progress by a common thread.
However, over the years, our national identity has been diluted. Our establishment as a unique meeting point for the mixing of diverse cultures, has led to talks of our heritage and culture tapered off — even when they were brought up in conversation, they were often connected to tangible landmarks and tactile artefacts, a scene that too is rapidly fading in the race to maximise urban spaces.
Culture is not a place or a thing, it’s a feeling. But if our visual markers, our reminders, disappear one by one, so will an integral part of our collective identity. We grow up side by side with their physicality, their towering presences that shape our perceptions of the world. In hindsight, everything has a lifespan, even the ones that we build to never fall apart. What we expect to last for eternity, inevitably fades into obscurity too, as time moves on.
We have to ensure that we continue to be tied to this feeling, this decidedly intangible legacy that we can always hold onto.
OUR HERITAGE: LET’S PRESERVE IT
Let’s go back in time: the very beginning of our breakthrough into the world as an independent nation. Vulnerable, surrounded by hostile nations and no natural resources of our own — if we did not stay united with a common purpose, a shared resolve, we would have slipped through the cracks. Our diversity did not divide us, rather we let it shape our public policies. As our continued survival as a nation became more apparent and we thrived in the global economy, the emphasis placed on our identity — the root of all our public policies — diminished. So, how has this happened?
First, as mentioned before, our metropolization has contributed greatly to the loss of our cultural landmarks: the places where socio-economic backgrounds all coagulate and overlap. We have replaced our historical buildings with structures of glass and steel to house the many businesses and services to feed both our growing economy and population. The urgent need to transform Singapore into a bustling first-world city that never sleeps, has neglected the monuments that our ancestors’ blood are tied to.
Even coined as the ‘Garden City’, our green spaces have been vanishing slowly and surely. I remember open plots of land as a child, the squares a safe haven for the children that used it to run amok, kicking footballs and tossing frisbees and gleefully racing dogs bigger than themselves. In its own way, these unclaimed spaces were cultural premises as well, a melting pot where people from all walks of life gathered, to share the same love and freedom.
Of course, we have to consider that Singapore is not the same homogeneous place it was 55 years ago. The openness of our doors have invited much more people of varying nationalities and heritages, and easy access to the internet has allowed people to assume identities beyond the traditional boxes of race, language and religion. Many find communities outside our borders, connections founded on feelings of kinship and understanding the way our initial Singaporean identity was. Globalisation and immigration, the rise of niche groups and beliefs due to the social media boom, has greatly accelerated an inevitable sort of progress. It is impossible for everyone to subscribe to an ordained identity.
Identity is an amorphous, fluid thing. It is ever-changing, even more so for a nation like Singapore. Our identity is what will keep us united as one, pushing forward in face of all adversity — we do not need to be caught in the midst of another crisis in order to continue protecting and defining it. Nobody wants to feel out of place in their own home. We all need to reconsider what sort of society we aspire to become; in a rapidly changing world, how do we empower ourselves, ground ourselves to a purpose larger than ourselves? The answer is clearer than what we first made it out to be.
FOR THE CONTINUED PRESERVATION OF OUR SHARED HERITAGE AND IDENTITY, HERE ARE SOME ORGANISATIONS YOU CAN DONATE TO:
1. Preservation of Monuments Fund
Under the National Heritage Board, the Preservation of Monuments Fund aims to preserve and celebrate the shared heritage of our diverse communities, for the purpose of education, nation building and cultural understanding. This is to nurture Singaporeans who know and understand our history, and will cherish the importance of leaving legacies towards a shared future.
2. My Community
My Community promotes and propagates community heritage in Singapore, encouraging the emergence and development of personal narratives. They conduct community-based participatory research and establish community archives to preserve the social memories of Singapore’s various communities; as well as set up community museums, co-create exhibitions and organise participatory programmes, festivals and guided tours to celebrate our shared culture and heritage.
3. Singapore Heritage Society
The Singapore Heritage Society is a voice for heritage conservation in Singapore, protecting spaces with the past and present’s social memories to strengthen social bonds. They believe that Singapore’s history is a vital part of our identity and growth, driving efforts in public education and advocacy, as well as making representations and recommendations for urban planning processes before development plans are finalised.
“If national identity means anything, it means something that comes with you wherever you go, and stays with you no matter how long you stay away.”
— Clive James