Events The Making Of A Nation - Forging A Singapore Identity
Forging A Singapore Identity

Forging A Singapore Identity

On 3 June 1959, the 1.6 million people in Singapore awoke to a new beginning - as people of a fully internal self-governing
city state under the British Crown. Many were immigrants and had no deep-rooted ties to
Singapore. The new government thus needed to encourage them to establish roots in Singapore, and to foster a sense of pride,
loyalty and national identity.

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The Ministry of Culture, set up in 1959 , drove the efforts to spearhead educational, nation-building, public outreach and publicity programmes. On 7 November 1959, the Minister of Culture, Mr S Rajaratnam, presented to the Legislative Assembly the first of Singapore's national symbols . A new red and white flag , state crest and state anthem - "Majulah Singapura" ("Onward Singapore") - were unveiled .

That same year, the government launched National Loyalty Week from 3 to 10 December comprising a slew of celebratory activities prominently featuring these new symbols. The highlight of National Loyalty Week was the installation of Inche Yusof bin Ishak as Singapore's first Malayan-born Head of State, or Yang di-Pertuan Negara . The installation on 3 December 1959 was followed by a march past and a mass procession-cum-rally at the Padang , which fanned out to key parts of the island.

As the government's publicity arm, the Ministry of Culture crafted key messages and coordinated publicity and media coverage for the programmes and activities in the public and private sectors. The Ministry created specific events and activities to promote nation-building, enhance inter-cultural awareness, racial understanding and bonding among the four main races (Malay, Chinese, Indian and Others). For instance, working with different cultural organisations, agencies and schools, it launched a series of Aneka Ragam Ra'ayat concerts - People's Cultural Concerts . Held at open-air venues like the Padang, Botanic Gardens and Hong Lim Park, these free concerts featured subtle nation-building messages. These highly popular concerts were well attended by people from all walks of life .

Radio Singapore, then a department of the Ministry, provided listeners with multi-lingual infotainment programmes and dramas featuring national messages. Documentaries on the progress of Singapore were specially produced by the Ministry in the four official languages (English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil) and shown in cinemas prior to the screening of feature films . The Ministry's regular free screening of films at kampongs and outlying areas provided another platform to connect with the people. These screenings were preceded by talks on the critical issues that Singapore was facing then.

The government also embarked on two iconic projects - the National Theatre and the National Library - to further strengthen the people's sense of national pride and identity. Announcing plans for the National Theatre in early November 1959, Minister Rajaratnam declared that the Theatre would be an affirmation of the people's will to build a national theatre for the cultural entertainment of the people . The fund-raising, pitched as a project to demonstrate one's loyalty to Singapore, drew enthusiastic support from organisations and ordinary citizens . Notable among these various fund raising activities were the "dollar-a-brick" campaign , sale of National Loyalty Week Souvenir Cards and a series of charity concerts.

The National Theatre was completed in 1964 at a cost of $2.4 million, of which $856,000 was donated by the public. The Theatre, a partially open-air venue with a cantilevered roof overhanging its 3,420 seats, was a popular venue for national performances, concerts and many University of Singapore convocations.

Many generations of Singaporeans frequented the National Library at Stamford Road regularly - to read, conduct research, or just hang out with friends - resonating with the vision expressed by the Yang di-Pertuan Negara that it would foster national bonding. The building was demolished in March 2004. A new state-of-the-art National Library now stands at Victoria Street.

Today's Singapore is a nation carved from the ideals and motivation of the first generation of migrants who chose to make this island their home. Every August, many hang the Singapore flag outside their homes and display unabashed pride and passion during the National Day celebrations. These, along with the pink Singapore identity card and red passport which citizens proudly carry, bear testimony to the success of the nation building efforts.

By Ministry of Communications and Information. Published August 2018.

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