Connecting the dots: How does Singapore relate to its SEA neighbours?

Connecting the dots: How does Singapore relate to its SEA neighbours?

The myth of Singapore’s transformation from a humble fishing village to a bustling economic hub is finally unravelling. Long before its economic surge in the 1960s and 1970s, there were clear threads of Singapore’s cosmopolitanism and interconnectedness in the region. In fact, there is evidence that by the 14th century, Singapore had already established itself as a thriving entrepot for trade in the Malacca Straits—a key passageway connecting the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, China, as well as Australasia.

The shifting winds of how we understand our historical narratives have made us more attuned to the enduring connections with the region, especially the Nusantara (a historical term referring to the outer islands of Maritime Southeast Asia, consisting of parts of present-day Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei, East Timor and Taiwan). In fact, our latest story on vernacular architecture pays homage to this shared yet distinct pre-colonial heritage, bringing historical context to the forefront of today’s conversations on sustainable development.

At Kontinentalist, we’re ardent supporters of decolonising narratives about Asia through data, but we know that the term “decolonisation” is fraught. It is tempting to define it narrowly as a call to revert to an idyllic pre-colonial era. However, this fails to account for the fact that colonial mindsets, systems and practices are deeply entrenched in systems worldwide, its impacts lingering long after colonial masters have left the region. Recognising these realities provides a starting point to understand decolonisation not solely through the lens of individual modern-day countries—particularly in Southeast Asia, where many have emerged within the last eight decades or so—but through their shared yet distinct experiences.

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