Seletar Chronicle

News for Residents

Parameswara in Seletar, c.1402!

Posted by sueamy on November 27, 2007

Seletar 1402 –
Parameswara was here!
While googling information on the Malay Annals the other day, I stumbled upon the story of Parameswara, the Majapahit prince who came from Palembang.
Prince Parameswara, described by poet and author, Daren Shiau as the Macbeth of Singapore’s history (rather like Richard III of England too), came from Palembang. After various disputes, he fled Sumatra and asked for refuge in Singapura. The Raja of that land was delighted to meet another Sumatran prince and welcomed him with open arms. At that time, the king’s fort was on Bukit Larangan (Forbidden or Protected Hill), or Fort Canning, as it was later called. Parameswara took the Raja’s open hospitality literally, and helped himself to one of the King’s concubines. One day the Raja came in and found them together. He was naturally outraged. Parameswara is said to have drowned the king in a bowl of water. He then fled the palace. And where did he go after that? The Malay Annals record that he fled to Seletar. What was Seletar like in those days, we wonder?
The earliest references to Seletar state that the name refers to native coastal dwellers (called Orang Laut or Orang Seletar) who resided on the edge of the Johor Straits and at the mouth of the Seletar River. The Orang Seletar were hunter-gatherers in a land which was principally mangrove swamp (yes, the British had to do a lot of draining, and still bits of the camp get very soggy!).
The river is said to be named after these original residents (or vice versa!). Later, these people are thought to have migrated from Seletar to Sungai Pulai in southwest Johor. There are still some groups in Johor, according to Malaysia’s Orang Asli census. Why did they leave Seletar, do you think? We are finding it pretty hard to leave, but then Seletar is probably a lot nicer nowadays, without the tigers and the swamps…
In Chinese, Seletar is koon kung (“naval base”). This may more properly refer to the west bank of Seletar River on the Sembawang side.
So did Parameswara stay with the Orang Seletar when he fled here? Some time after, he left Singapura and went off to found Malacca. Now supposing he’d met the mousedeer in Seletar instead and set up his trading post here?

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


3 Responses to “Parameswara in Seletar, c.1402!”

  1. Orang Seletar said

    Orang Seletar was once sea pirates turned Navy for the Straits for Malacca and Johore, guarding the seas along the spice trading route. They historical constribution were recognised by the Johore Kingdom, where when they were chased away from Seletar, their original village, to make way for the british airport and currently Seletar Reservoir, they were given places to resite along the coastal zones along Straits of Johore. Now, some resite in Sungai Danga, Kukup and etc, but there’s one special estuary, where Skudai River and Danga River meets the open seas at Johore Straits, where the once lush mangrove rich with various sealives, is Kampung Bakar Batu. There, a small village of Seletar Natives lives and is at treat due to modernisation and construction of a new highway which cuts through the bottle neck where these two rivers were side by side. The polluted waters kills the existing ecology which subsequently impact the living of Seletar Natives which rely entirely on their surrounding environment. Brutal and inconsidered modernisation kills heritage, and no one gives a damn. The history is about to repeat itself, and are we going to let this happen again?

  2. susanamy said

    Thank you for this comment. As mentioned in my article, I knew the descendants of Orang Seletar to be in Johor, but didn’t link it to that particular place on the Skudai River. This is at the heart of Plan B in the Iskandar Development which is moving on apace. Everything around there is being disturbed. Does anyone know if something is being done for the Orang Seletar and the wildlife there?

  3. Orang Seletar said

    The fate of Orang Seletar, the indigenous sea people of coastal johore is uncertain. Worst when they were caught in hard-core poverty line while still carry on their tradiational food gathering activities along the already polluted coastal line. Their resettlement land belongs to be Sultan but the pressure of urbanisation by Iskandar development might forced them to be relocated once again. Who is there to defend their rights? no one.

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