According to Malay legend, a Sumatran prince encountered a lion
- considered a good omen - on Temasek, prompting him to found Singapura,
or Lion City.
It mattered little that lions had never inhabited Singapore (more
likely the prince had seen a tiger); what did matter was the establishment
of the region as a minor trading post for the powerful Sumatran
Srivijaya empire and as a subsequent vassal state of the Javanese
Majapahit empire in the mid-13th century.
Singapore might have remained a quiet backwater if not for Sir Stamford
Raffles' intervention in 1819. The British had first established
a presence in the Straits of Malacca (now called Melaka) in the
18th century when the East India Company set out to secure and protect
its line of trade from China to the colonies in India.
Fearing another resurgence of Dutch expansionism - which had been
the dominant European trading power in the region for nearly 200
years - Raffles argued for an increased British presence, which
he was promptly given.
Under his tutelage, Singapore's forlorn reputation as a fetid, disease-ridden
colony was soon forgotten. Migrants, attracted by a tariff-free
port, poured in by the thousands and a flourishing colony with a
military and naval base was established.Singapore's inexorable growth
continued into the 20th century.
However, the outbreak of WWII brutally exposed the fallacy of British
might: they suffered the ignominy of defeat when Japan invaded the
colony in 1941. The British were, however, welcomed back after Japan's
surrender in 1945, but their right to rule was no longer assured.
By the 1950s, burgeoning nationalism had led to the formation of
a number of political parties as Singapore moved slowly towards
The People's Action Party, with the Cambridge-educated Lee Kuan
Yew as leader, was elected in 1959. Lee became prime minister, a
position he was to hold for the next 31 years. In 1963, Singapore
formed a union with Malaya (now Malaysia) but by 1965, the nascent
federation was in tatters. Singapore became independent soon after
and was once again the economic success story of the region.
Lee Kuan Yew resigned as Prime Minister in 1990 and Goh Chok Tong
- a leader more inclined towards consultation and liberalism - took
The feel of the island comes from the cultural diversity of Singapore.
The population is made up of Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians.
Although citizens of all races think of themselves as Singaporean,
there are still certain areas that are inhabited by specific ethnic
groups. Each area has its own culture celebrating its own religion.
Each religion has many colorful festivals to commemorate days of