Singapore’s filmmaking industry certainly looks like it’s scaling new heights, what with drama-comedy Ajoomma (starring local actress Hong Huifang) being nominated for four Golden Horse Awards in 2022 and also being selected as Singapore’s entry to the 2023 Academy Awards in the Best International Feature Film category.
In the 1950s and 1960s, we certainly weren’t party to such glitzy international awards, but did you know that Singapore used to be a major centre for movie production back then? Films by Cathay-Keris and Shaw Brothers were popular in Malaya and Singapore, and these include Orang Minyak and Seniman Bujang Lapok, which have since become beloved classics. Unfortunately, it seems no one thought that preserving these films was particularly important, since reels upon reels of acetate film were left to disintegrate in dusty warehouses and forgotten storerooms over the decades. Chew Tee Pao’s account of the challenges of restoring these films is both fascinating and inspiring.
While movies entertain us, religion provides our lives with meaning. In this issue, we look at three different manifestations of religious experience with Singaporean characteristics. William L. Gibson explores the shrines on Kusu Island, while Ng Yi-Sheng introduces us to three Taoist goddesses unique to Singapore. And ahead of Thaipusam, Nalina Gopal explains why devotees carry kavadi and how the festival has evolved since the late 1850s in Singapore.
We then travel back a few more thousand years with Foo Shu Tieng’s essay on stone tools. It provides a fascinating look at what has been unearthed in our region, together with some rare photos of these artefacts – some of which might date back to 4000 BCE.
That’s not all we have for you of course. You can also read about Subaraj Rajathurai, the nature conservationist who helped save Singapore’s green spaces, and about how the postwar Chinese bookstore scene in Singapore has changed over the decades.
And definitely not to be missed is the story of how people in Singapore prepared for war in the days, weeks and months before Singapore fell in February 1942. This is part of a focus on Total Defence by the National Library and the National Archives – an effort that remains all the more relevant during these turbulent times.
As we enter a new year, may this issue help you recount these lessons and experiences of the past in hopes of a brighter path ahead.
Ms Alicia Yeo