Probably the first time 'Orang Laut' was mentioned in Singapore Parliament
Thank you to all who worked hard for this.
We’ve come to the end of the first quarter of the year, and we would like to share with you some recaps of the first three months of 2023 at Orang Laut SG.
Starting with the most recent news: the protection of Singapore’s marine spaces, including the Southern Islands, was passed in parliament. We congratulate the green groups and ground-up initiatives working tirelessly with policymakers to shape better environmental protection laws.
Why is the protection of the Southern Islands a cause for concern?
Since 2019, the Southern Islands have seen a 2.5x spike in visitors, from 6,800 to 17,000 a month in 2023, Member of Parliament (MP) Nadia Ahmad Samdin shared in a recording by CNA. Despite the two main goals of nature recreation and embracing islandness that were identified, she calls for cultural sensitivity when transforming the islands.
Protecting nature on the Southern Islands
The Southern Islands are homes to nationally endangered and vulnerable species.
Protecting our culture and heritage on the Southern Islands
Apart from the marine ecosystems still inhabiting the islands, these grounds used to be where we called home – a pivotal point that we are grateful to have surfaced in the adjournment. They are also of religious significance – take Kusu Island, for example; many Singaporeans make their way on a pilgrimage to the temples from September to October yearly.
Apart from Kusu island, through our oral interviews, we would like to reiterate that many other undocumented sacred spaces are important to the former islanders.
While this is a momentous event for Singapore, it is also significant for our community. It is probably the first time that ‘Orang Laut’ has been mentioned by a Member of Parliament (MP) during parliamentary hearings.
At Orang Laut SG, we acknowledge the equal importance of environmental and cultural protection, as one cannot co-exist without the other. As the long-standing guardians of the environment, we must preserve the rights, knowledge and culture of members of the coastal communities.
We kicked off the year with an art exhibition as part of Singapore Art Week from 6 Jan 2023. Partnering with Edible Garden City (EGC), we used their rooftop garden at Funan Mall to start the conversation about indigeneity from the angles of community and nature through a series of poetry and art installations.
Titled Asal; Asli, (Origin; Native) the poems were written by Firdaus in Malay, with the influences of his Orang Pulau dialect, mantras, and ancestral healings passed down from his grandparents. As part of the exhibition, we took this chance to showcase bubu traps and include some community narratives surrounding native plants grown in the garden.
In the same week, we were conversing with Teo Hui Min, a curator at National Gallery Singapore, as part of Artsplaining, a casual platform for art advocacy to foster art appreciation through dialogues. During this session, Hui Min offered interesting views about how art could be perceived differently in today’s context in our local galleries. A key point reiterated during the discussion was how important local narratives surrounding native plants could have been erased during the colonial era due to the art commissioner’s sole purpose of ‘scientific research’. An example shared by Firdaus was the use of bunga kemboja (frangipani) in ritualistic practices as part of cleansing rituals.
This year, the team has also been busy with a few educational and outreach programmes that we were excited to be a part of. In February, we participated in NTU CCA IdeaFest 2023, which centres around global food security and sustainability themes.
As part of this event, we conducted a tour at West Coast Park that allowed us to share with participants some challenges threatening our culture and heritage sustainability. Over some food prepared by former Southern islanders, we discussed the possible preservation of heritage spaces and the role of traditional food in our culture.
In the same month, we did another tour, but with a different context, at Pulau Sekijang Bendera (St John’s Island) as part of the Singapore Art Museum’s (SAM) yearly event, the Singapore Biennale. During this tour, we shared with participants about the community’s use of native plants for medicine and food, and the shared spiritual beliefs and practices that once thrived on the Southern Islands, including Pulau Sekijang.
We also took this chance to peek into Zarina Muhammad’s amazing artwork on Pulau Sekijang Bendera that pierced our hearts and souls. Titled Moving Earth, Crossing Water, Eating Soil, it is an audio-visual-tactile installation and a series of performances and activation. The work examines how hierarchies of knowledge systems may be challenged and how we may attune our senses to alternate ways in which knowledge—whether from the point of view of the human or non-human—may be accepted.
On that note, we have an exciting performance coming up!
Working with another island descendant, performer and cultural advocate, Asnida Daud and Firdaus, will bring you through the oral traditions, maritime craftsmanship and environmentalism of the Orang Pulau and Orang Laut through spoken word, movement and sounds as part of Esplanade Theatre's Pesta Raya.
As two descendants of Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sudong, the chosen name of the performance is Air Da Tohor (The tide is low), after the vernacular expression used by the Orang Pulau to call for attention to low tides when fishing. At the heart of it all, we hope to share with you a fragment of our rich heritage and culture and celebrate the stories and traditions that we are able to call attention to.
For more ticketing information, do check out Esplanade’s website here. This will be taking place at the Esplanade Recital Studio, on Friday, 19 May 2023 at 8pm.
Lastly, as we welcome the month of Ramadan, on 5 April 2023, we will be distributing Bubur Lambuk Ikan Tenggiri, a mackerel porridge recipe from Firdaus’ great-grandmother. If you want to reserve a free bowl for yourself or someone in need, click the button below! See you at Mother Dough Bakery from 3-5pm.