Speech by DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the first Kristang Language Festival Gala Dinner on 20 May 2017 at the Hotel Fort Canning Legends Ballroom.
"Celebrating Eurasian Culture and Heritage"
Mr Bennet Theseira, Distinguished Guests,
Members of the Eurasian Association,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am happy to join you this evening for the first Kristang Language Festival Gala Dinner.
The Eurasian community is an integral part of Singapore. Together with other communities in Singapore, the Eurasian community has contributed to our growth and development. We have built a united and cohesive society. The Eurasian community itself draws from many strands and reflects the history of our part of the world over many centuries. This understanding of history, of the roots of Singaporean Eurasians, and also of the cultural practices provide us with an insight into how our region developed.
A Vibrant Eurasian Community
The vibrant Eurasian community has made significant contributions – for instance statesmen such as President Mr Benjamin Sheares and our first law minister Mr E W Barker. In other fields of endeavour, we also have well-known musicians such as Jeremy Monteiro and Singaporeans from all walks of life celebrated Joseph Schooling’s achievements at the Rio Olympic Games.
Tonight, we celebrate the many facets of our Eurasian culture and heritage. Within the Eurasian community, our Portuguese-Eurasians can trace their ancestry to marriages between Portuguese and Malay residents in Malacca in the fifteenth century. Some of them subsequently came to Singapore during the British colonial period. Among this group of Portuguese-Eurasians, a small number still speak Kristang today.
I am heartened by the community’s effort to retain this historical link to Kristang. Kodrah Kristang is led by a multi-ethnic team of dynamic youths who are passionate about Singapore’s cultural heritage. The Kodrah Kristang team led by Kevin Martens Wong has taken time to connect with the remaining Kristang speakers to develop plans and share their work with other Singaporeans.
In just over a year, the Kodrah Kristang team has conducted classes for more than 200 learners from all races, many of whom are here today. I was told that the Kristang lessons are fun, engaging and inclusive. Many of the remaining Kristang speakers, including Kevin’s Eurasian grandparents, Maureen and Peter Martens, are also part of the class. Mr Peter Martens was a teacher in St Joseph’s Institution when I was a student there. I am happy to see such strong inter-generational relations between Singaporeans of all ages. I should add that the Martens are a very well-known hockey family too.
The Kodrah Kristang team has developed a Kristang board game, a Kristang online dictionary, and a festival celebrating the Kristang culture. There are even efforts to create modern words for Kristang. Singaporeans can learn from Kevin and his team’s passion and dedication in celebrating our rich culture and heritage which comes from many strands.
Such ground-up initiatives are welcomed as they reflect the renewed interest among Singaporeans in our culture and heritage. I am glad that the Eurasian Association is working closely with the National Heritage Board and other communities to strengthen partnerships for multicultural activities in Singapore. These events help to foster closer bonds among Singaporeans of all races, and help build a more cohesive society.
I am heartened by the community’s effort to retain this historical link to Kristang. DPM Teo
I am heartened by the community’s effort to retain this historical link to Kristang.
Sometimes, we find that matters of race, religion and nationalism have come to the fore and they are being used in a variety of circumstances by people to divide, and to accentuate differences between different groups of people. We would have thought that with globalisation, the Internet, and the pervasiveness of media, that the world would have come closer together. But it would appear that the primal instincts have been used and exploited by some people to create more divisions and animosity. In Singapore, we have been able to resist these developments and ensure that we come closer together, and celebrate what we have in common.
In closing, I would like to once again thank Kevin and his team, the volunteers for this Festival, and the Singaporeans who have joined the classes to learn more about Kristang, our history and culture. These initiatives by our local communities remind us of our diverse and multicultural heritage and at the same time, help build new bonds and strengthen our shared identity as Singaporeans. Only when we are confident of ourselves and of our identity, we can be more open to others and accepting of what others are. I hope that this endeavour will contribute to this. Mutu grandi merseh
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