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Safeguarding and Promoting Malay Culture and Heritage for All

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law, at Hari Warisan on 20 Jan 2024

  1. Such a delight to be here today for the launch of the third Hari Warisan, organised by the Malay Heritage Foundation.
  2. This year’s theme is Tempo Dulu dan Sekarang, which translates to Era Then and Now. This theme vividly captures how Malay culture in Singapore is a vibrant tapestry woven through time. It is resilient, enriching, and always relevant.
  3. Era Then...

  4. So let me say a bit about ‘then’ and ‘now’, starting with ‘then’. Throughout Singapore’s history, Malay culture stands as an integral and cherished part of our nation, with its rich heritage, time-honoured traditions, and strong community spirit.
  5. Before the British arrived in 1819, Singapore was a part of the Malay nusantara. As we subsequently flourished as an entrepot, Singapore became a hub of Malay culture and learning.
  6. Across the various eras over time, the Malay community and several very prominent Malay individuals have always been at the forefront of contributing greatly to the rich traditions and building up Singapore’s development and progress – in tandem, hand in hand. And the values exemplified by the Malay community, such as a strong gotong royong community spirit, had a strong and lasting impact on our social fabric. A lot of the values and qualities we see up till today started off in the early years.
  7. Malay culture and heritage are now very much a key part of our collective culture and heritage, and essential to our collective national identity as Singaporeans.
  8. And Now...

  9. Let me speak a little bit about ‘now’. Over the many years since those days up till now, the Government has strongly supported the safeguarding as well as the promotion of Malay heritage and culture.
  10. We worked hand-in-hand with the Malay community to ensure that we safeguard monuments and sites of heritage importance, and also celebrate diverse art forms and achievements of our cultural practitioners. For example, the National Heritage Board and the Malay Heritage Foundation are working on a revamp, a revitalisation, of Malay Heritage Centre at Kampong Gelam. And this will include a restoration of the historic Istana Kampong Gelam, as well as making sure that it is not just about the infrastructure and the building, but also that we have great programming, to ensure that people learn about, know, are interested in, and want to preserve and pass on this culture for the next generation. We will have an expanded, revamped exhibition and an expanded narrative. Also making sure that we keep up with the times, we will have more interactive offerings as well. So these are all that you can look forward to at the historic Istana Kampong Gelam.
  11. Last year, we launched two very important plans - Our SG Arts Plan (2023 – 2027), as well as the Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0. These two masterplans coming together will guide the development of the arts, heritage, and culture for Singapore up till 2027, setting the foundation in these next five years, and making sure that we have a strong platform to push from beyond these five years. These plans include celebrating the arts and heritage of our various communities, including Malay arts and heritage.
  12. Of the four pillars of the heritage plan, one is dedicated entirely to the community, while another focuses on identity. Through the heritage plan, we will work hand in hand with the different communities of Singapore, including the Malay community, to value, to celebrate, and to find ways to make sure that we pass down our multicultural identity.
  13. Similarly, under the arts plan, we want to build a connected society and a distinctive city, through strengthening our shared arts experiences in the communities and ensuring that we infuse arts everywhere. It doesn’t just belong to the museums and galleries, but we want to bring it into the community, into everyday life, into where we work, live, and play so that you can interact on a daily basis with art.
  14. MHF’s role in safeguarding and promoting Malay culture and heritage for all

  15. One of the key organisations in the safeguarding and promotion of Malay culture, arts and heritage for all Singaporeans is of course the Malay Heritage Foundation. 
  16. And one key pillar in the foundation’s work on Malay cultural heritage is its strong focus on thought leadership. And this is something that I think is important because a strong thought leadership helps us to facilitate intergenerational knowledge transfer, is really important. Because if we want to preserve Malay cultural heritage, we must first have very strong thought leadership, raise awareness, get people interested, and then we have people who become stewards of that thought leadership, so that we can transmit it, and preserve it for the next generation.
  17. We also want to aim to disseminate knowledge to a wider audience so that more people know about, learn about, and come to appreciate Malay culture and heritage, and of course nurture a talent pipeline of cultural sector leaders. I think we need all these to ensure that in the next bound, the next phase, of our development, we are strengthened not just by our strong economic foundations but also by our field of the arts which speaks to the heart.
  18. Amongst the things that MHF does is organise various masterclass, online lecture series, and publications to provide platforms for thought leaders, academics, and cultural practitioners to share their knowledge and perspectives. And sometimes you will need those who are involved in history, heritage, academia to interface with practitioners so that there is a mix between what we practice and how we express culture as a form of identity.
  19. Another key pillar of MHF’s focus is on educating, engaging, and empowering youths. We all know that the youths represent the next generation. If we get them involved and engaged, make them feel empowered, I think we have the best chance of ensuring that as much of our culture as possible is passed on to the next generation. They can contribute significantly to the preservation and promotion of culture. So MHF has launched a series of youth-led discussion platforms on Malay arts and heritage, also partnered the National Youth Council to host traineeships for youths to contribute to MHF’s work and hone their professional skills.
  20. Finally, another effort from MHF is to find a way to preserve and placemake our historical precincts. It is important. It is not just the thought leadership, but also ensuring that when we see the physical structures, like the Istana Kampong Gelam, we are reminded that they represent strong icons of history, legacy and heritage. So, MHF partnered with the Friends of the Museum to provide free Kampong Gelam Heritage Trail guided walking tours. You can walk at Kampong Gelam, you can appreciate, with someone who knows the history and significance guiding you and telling you about it, it all comes alive. These tours allow MHF to raise awareness of the rich history of Kampong Gelam, and also help to inspire the public’s appreciation of the heritage in our urban spaces. In fact, as part of MHF’s efforts to promote culture and heritage in Singapore and also beyond Singapore, to a foreign audience, Spanish tours were conducted for the first time between November 2022 and February 2023. This helped to profile and raise awareness of Malay culture to a broader international audience.
  21. Celebrating Malay culture and heritage at Hari Warisan

  22. Coming closer to where we are today, this afternoon’s event Hari Warisan is a key event in MHF’s calendar of activities and has been so since 2021. The event was created to celebrate our cultural champions, welcome tomorrow’s cultural torchbearers and provide a rich platform for cultural dialogue between generations. I think we need an event like this to bring people together, raise awareness, and find a platform for discussion to generate interest.
  23. Celebrate and appreciate cultural practitioners

  24. So today, we will celebrate the recipients of the Hadiah Warisan, or Heritage Prize, as well as the Tunas Warisan, or Special Mention Award. Let me say a little about these awards. These awards were established by the MHF to recognise outstanding individuals who have achieved artistic excellence or rendered outstanding service to the community.
  25. Welcome tomorrow’s torchbearers

  26. Additionally, we will also appoint three more Teman Warisan, or Cultural Ambassadors. These are youths that are active in the fields of culture and heritage. They are selected for their leadership, and their potential to inspire more young people to be cultural heritage champions and ambassadors.
  27. One of these appointees today is Tyara Chynta Puteri, who is the youngest Teman Warisan to date. Tyara is an emerging ballet dancer and traditional Asian operatic performer. She has just started Year 1 at the School of the Arts (SOTA) this year but has been dancing since age 5. Tyara has performed in opera productions. Her performances with the opera troupe saw her acting, singing, and dancing in festivals at the Malay Heritage Centre, the Esplanade, and internationally. My heartiest congratulations to Tyara for being appointed as one of the Teman Warisan this year. I hope you, through your journey and your sharing, and your inspiration will bring on board more young people to live their dreams through the performing arts.
  28. Provide a platform for dialogue

  29. Beyond the awards, Hari Warisan also provides an important platform to spark meaningful conversations. I spoke about this earlier and I think it is very important for us to share knowledge, even if it might come from different perspectives. I think this is how we actively preserve and have a very constructive dialogue around what we think we want to preserve, and what culture and heritage represents to us. And I must say that it will be different because in the nature of arts, it appeals to us and speaks to us in different ways. So having a platform for dialogue is truly important.
  30. I was told that our keynote speaker Puan Marina Yusoff gave an insightful and thought-provoking lecture just now. I hope that these lectures and more will spark the exchange of ideas and further pique the public’s interest in Malay culture and heritage. It is really important for us to develop Malay culture and thought leadership and ensure that these are anchored in our society.
  31. Conclusion

  32. So let me wrap up. I want to start by applauding our culture practitioners and champions of Malay culture and heritage, many of whom are in the audience today. I know you have had tireless efforts, you’ve been active, you’ve been fervent, you’ve been passionate in promoting and preserving the essence of Malay traditions, and also finding new ways of breathing new life and refreshing them for our community’s appreciation. I hope you will keep this fire burning. It is very important that you remain steadfast on this journey and find ways to inspire many generations to come and serve as our stewards of a very important cultural heritage.
  33. I also extend my heartfelt congratulations to MHF for your unstinting efforts in championing Malay arts, culture, and heritage. I urge everyone to continue supporting MHF in its very many endeavours and contribute generously to its initiatives, not just financially but also through time and your talents and your treasures.
  34. I hope that through MHF’s efforts, more Singaporeans – and not just the Malay community – will develop an interest in learning about and contributing to preserving our heritage and culture. This is not just about one community. It is about all of us Singaporeans who are wrapped up in a multicultural tapestry. A tapestry is beautiful only because we have interwoven threads in the tapestry. A tapestry interwoven like this makes the entire fabric of life and the fabric of society much stronger. That’s what I see in Malay cultural heritage in the context of Singapore. Let us work together to celebrate, appreciate and promote our rich Malay culture and heritage with all Singaporeans.
  35. On that note Selamat Hari Warisan! Thank you very much.
Last updated on 25 January 2024