| Written accounts of the early history
of Singapore are sketchy and the names used to refer to the country
A Chinese account of the third century refers to Singapore as Puluozhong,
translating the Malay words Pulau Ujong, ie. "island at the
end" of the peninsula.
The Javanese Nagarakretagama1
of 1365 identified a settlement called Temasek, ie. "Water
Town", on Singapore island. A Chinese trader Wang Dayuan, who
visited Singapore around 1330 referred to this settlement as Danmaxi,
in reporting that there were also some Chinese found on the island.
The Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals has the most colourful and vivid
account of how Singapore got its present name. As the story goes,
Sang Nila Utama (or Sri Tri Buana as he was more popularly known),
ruler of Palembang (in present day Indonesia), landed at Temasek
one day while seeking shelter from a storm. Sighting an animal he
took to be a lion, he decided to establish a settlement which he
named Singapura, i.e. "Lion City". The island became commonly
known as Singapura by the end of the 14th century.
During the 14th century, Singapore was caught in the struggles
between Siam (now Thailand) and the Java-based Majapahit Empire
for control over the Malay Peninsula.
According to the Sejarah Melayu, Singapore was defeated in one
Majapahit attack. Later, a prince of Palembang, Iskandar Shah, also
known as Parameswara, killed the local chieftain and installed himself
as the island's new ruler. But shortly after, he was driven out,
either by the Siamese or by the Javanese forces of the Majapahit
Empire. He fled north to Muar in the Malay Peninsula, where he founded
the Malacca Sultanate. Singapore remained an important part of the
Malacca Sultanate; it was the fief of the admirals (laksamanas),
including the famous Hang Tuah.
By the early 19th century2,
Singapore was under the rule of the Sultan of Johor, who was based
in the Riau-Lingga archipelago. One of his senior ministers, the
Temenggong, administered Johor and Singapura.
When the British East India Company founded their settlement in
early 1819, through an agreement with Sultan Hussein Shah and the
Temenggong, Singapore had around 1,000 indigenous inhabitants, consisting
of Malays as well as the orang laut, i.e. sea nomads. These people
were clustered around the Singapore River, Kallang River, Telok
Blangah, and along the Johor Straits3.
There were also some Chinese traders and gambier planters in the
1A Javanese epic poem by Prapanca,
considered the most important work of the literature that developed
during the Majapahit era.
2The period between the 15th
and 18th century could be filled by accounts given by Kennedy, Tregonning
or Joginder Singh in the respective "History of Malaya"
3C.M. Turnbull, A History of
Singapore 1819-1988 (Singapore: OUP, 1989) p.5