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Celebrating our Singapore heritage

Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at the Launch of our SG Heritage Plan at Singapore Heritage Festival, Jurong Town Hall

07 April 2018

Ms Chang Hwee Nee,
CEO of the National Heritage Board (NHB),
 
Mr Ng Lang,
CEO of JTC Corporation,
 
Mr Ronnie Tay,
CEO of National Environment Agency (NEA),
 
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

    Good morning. Thank you so much for joining us here today.

Shared Ownership of Our Heritage and SHF

2. More Singaporeans are stepping forward to celebrate our rich heritage. We are doing so in many ways, from participating in heritage events, guiding as docents in our museums, to volunteering at our festivals. We are also championing projects that document and promote our heritage, making our Singapore story even more interesting. 
 
3. The SHF is testament to this. Since it was started 15 years ago, SHF has evolved into a platform for individuals, community partners, and heritage groups to co-organise programmes that celebrate our history and culture. Almost half of the 120 programmes this year have been co-created with NHB’s partners from the community. One such partner is Charmaine Leung, who held guided tours and shared her stories of Keong Saik during the past two editions of SHF. This year, she has gone one step further by rallying other enthusiasts to develop programmes that deepen our appreciation for the Chinatown precinct. Thanks to the support of passionate individuals like Charmaine, SHF 2018 will present a rich and varied line-up of activities across Singapore.
 
4. This is particularly important as SHF 2018 will make our heritage more accessible by bringing participants to the heartlands, and presenting local stories behind neighbourhoods such as Jurong, Jalan Besar and Toa Payoh to the wider public. Such places hold memories of significant times and events, and constitute an important part of our common heritage. Where we are today in Jurong is a particularly appropriate location to launch SHF 2018. As the industrial backbone of Singapore, Jurong holds a very special place in Singapore’s economic history. Standing here in Jurong Town Hall, a National Monument, we are reminded of Singapore’s aspiration for rapid growth during the early years of industrialisation and the vision of our pioneer leaders, such as Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr Hon Sui Sen. In Dr Goh’s words, the transformation of Jurong from a mangrove swamp to industrial estate was “an act of faith in the people of Singapore”. Indeed, it was a very poignant moment. Looking back now, it was a transformative period for our country and speaking to residents in Jurong will remind you what Jurong was about – orchards of star fruits, sightings of crocodiles – these were all common sights. I think this makes for a very interesting understanding of a country’s development. 

Engaging Singaporeans on Our SG Heritage Plan 

5. Besides turning 15, this year’s SHF also marks a milestone for the heritage scene in Singapore. Today, we launch Our SG Heritage Plan, the first master plan for the future of Singapore’s heritage sector. Some have asked, “Why the need for a plan, and why now?”.
 
6. Countries around the world are facing challenges associated with globalisation and rapid technological advancements. Singapore is no different.  As we prepare to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of modern Singapore next year, it is all the more important for us to look back at the lessons of the past, so as to better understand what makes us who we are today. Embracing our heritage will help us strengthen our cohesion as a society and our identity as a nation. Anchored in an understanding of our shared history and values, we will find confidence and purpose as we navigate new challenges, and seize future opportunities.
 
7. The Heritage Plan is a long-term plan that aims to help us safeguard and promote our heritage for future generations. What is our heritage? What do we know about our heritage? And how do we pass down our knowledge to the future generations? These are the questions contemplated in the Heritage Plan. Heritage is more than our history. It is what every one of us, within our families and in our communities, experiences in our daily lives, and on special occasions. Our heritage is diverse and complex, reflecting our multiculturalism, and enriched by the interactions between different ethnicities and religions. It is borne out of everyone’s life, and each and every one of us has a part in shaping it. Our heritage belongs to everyone, to you and I.  It is therefore critical that the plan has been co-created with Singaporeans.
 
8. To better chart the strategies and initiatives of the Heritage Plan in its first edition from 2018 to 2022, we engaged Singaporeans to find out what matters to them, and what more we can do in order to better protect and promote our heritage for the future. I am heartened that around 34,000 people, including heritage experts, non-government organisations, practitioners, volunteers, and youths have contributed their ideas and feedback.  

Co-creating the Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory with Singaporeans

9. In our dialogues and interactions with the community, we uncovered many aspects of heritage which resonate with Singaporeans. Many identified with Our Cultures – practices and traditions that we pass on from generation to generation, including our crafts, performing arts, festivals and customs.
 
10. These are examples of our intangible cultural heritage, and I am pleased to announce that NHB has released a first batch of elements to be included in our Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory. Our inventory finds its basis from UNESCO’s definition of intangible cultural heritage, and it reflects our multicultural society. The first batch of elements covers a wide range of practices: performing arts such as wayang kulit, Nanyin and Indian classical dance; social practices such as traditional weddings, and traditional craftsmanship of pottery, and jewellery.
 
11. This inventory is now available on Roots.sg. We look forward to contributions from the community to add to the documentation and understanding of the elements. For example, if you have stories or photographs of how a certain dish is prepared in your family, or how a traditional performing art is practised in Singapore, you can share them on Roots.sg. NHB would also like to hear from you further suggestions on intangible cultural heritage elements that may be added to the inventory. The development of our inventory is an ongoing process. This reflects the living nature of our intangible cultural heritage, which will evolve over time.   
 
12. In our public engagements on the Heritage Plan, there was also significant enthusiasm and interest among Singaporeans in our food heritage. For example, at the recent Singapore Day in London, where local hawker fare was served, an overseas Singaporean said that: “being able to eat food from home while halfway across the globe is more than just a palette quencher; it's a reminder of people and times from home that are dear to me.” Indeed, I think it is quite a common practice for Singaporeans to head to the food court at Changi Airport after a long trip. This reflects the yearning for local food, and the special place that food has among Singaporeans. In recognition of how our food is so closely linked with our Singapore identity, and in line with UNESCO’s recognition of food as part of intangible cultural heritage, we will also be including food heritage in our inventory.
 
13. Establishing our inventory is an important step towards the possible listing of a Singapore element on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Many have asked what this element could be. I think our first UNESCO element should reflect our multicultural and multiracial makeup. It should also resonate with Singaporeans from all backgrounds, and help in building a greater sense of our national identity. With these criteria in mind, we hope to receive suggestions from you, our stakeholders and partners, and from Singaporeans on what this first element should be. NHB has started holding focus group discussions with various experts and practitioners, and I encourage all Singaporeans to share their thoughts and suggestions too at Roots.sg

Conclusion 

14. Our heritage is a critical part of our national, community and personal identities. It gives us a sense of our place and belonging. I would like to thank all of you for your contributions to SHF and Our SG Heritage Plan. The plan will be available online today, and we look forward to continuing the conversations with you as we implement the plan. I also look forward to working closely with all Singaporeans to further safeguard and promote our heritage, and leave a proud legacy for future generations.
 
15. Thank you.

Last Updated: 13 April 2018

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