Documenting our heritage

I’ve just returned from what could be described as island hops between Singapore and Malaysia.
The trip was lasted two weeks and for me personally it was a bit of an eye opener.

I have been to Singapore on two previous occasions but this time it was different. Different in the context that on my previous two visits I was much younger and probably a bit more carefree. I’m not suggesting that the older one gets the more get the cynical one becomes. NB With time hopefully comes experience and I hope, wiser perspectives.

I was fascinated by the history of the Sikhs who are now in their 3rd, 4th and 5th generations. Not quite in parallel with the UK, probably and obviously because these islands are a lot closer to India than the UK. A large Southern Indian population is also resident in both countries.

I did not get a chance to visit the Gurdwara in Singapore but did visit two in Penang.

Penang had some interesting history at Fort Cornwallis. Fort Cornwallis was originally built for the Royal artillery troops and the military (by the way, founded by Captain Francis Light), its function historically was more administrative rather than defense. In its entire history, the fort was never engaged in any battle, Apart from being used for the British Royal artillery troops, the fort was once occupied by the Sikh police of the Straits Settlements (the latter date back to the 1800s, i.e.: The establishment of the Straits Settlements followed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, by which the Malay archipelago was divided into a British zone in the north and a Dutch zone in the south. This resulted in the exchange of the British settlement of Bencoolen (on Sumatra) for the Dutch colony of Malacca and undisputed control of Singapore. Its capital was moved from Penang to Singapore in 1832) during the 1920’s. Interestingly, one of Penang’s three Sikh Gurdwara’s is called, ‘The Police Gurdwara’!

On the outside of the oldest one I visited the inscription, ‘Diamond Jubilee Gurdwara’ was mounted in large blue lettering.

Inside we were greeted with Tea and biscuits by some really nice people. We had a chance to learn about how they (some of the congregation/ Sangat) have been living in Penang for almost 5 generations. I really wanted to record some of their stories on my recorder but was a bit shy to ask!

Later I wondered if we can do more to document the lives or Sikhs around the world, their experiences, challenges and heritage. It is almost a project in its own right and another opportunity to communicate who we are.

We purchased a point to point ticket, this meant that I had to arrive and leave via Singapore. We spent the last 2 nights in Singapore and although it had gloss I could not help thinking how some many Western brands have and continue to ‘thrust’ themselves on countries, especially in some of the giant malls of both Singapore and Malaysia. More about that another time!

Categories: 2007, Sikhs

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