MUSE SG is a collaborative effort between the National Heritage Board and NUS History Society. Every semester, students in the History community are given the chance to research on a selected topic and thereafter contribute an article to the publication.
In this series, we interview writers of MUSE SG Volume 13 – The Intangible Cultural Heritage Issue – and find out what it’s like to be part of this project!
Phedra is a Political Science and History undergraduate at NUS. In this volume, she explores the local history of songbird rearing, and how that popular hobby has morphed over the years. Check out her article here!
What have you written about in this issue of MUSE SG? Could you briefly share some of your findings?
For my article, my focus was on the practice of songbird rearing in Singapore. Many Singaporeans have the perception that the hobby is a dying trade and one practised mainly by the old. However, I found out while interviewing hobbyists that songbird rearing is also enjoyed by an increasing number of young people, as they have observed from the attendance at songbird rearing competitions.
While the hobby looks simple, it is far from easy. Songbird rearing requires a great amount of dedication and commitment as a hobby, given that many things go into training these small creatures to reach their full singing potential. From their living environment to what they consume, the hobbyists do a lot of research and try out many different methods over decades to perfect the art of rearing songbirds.
Why did you choose this topic? What fascinated you most about the topic?
I chose this topic because as a child, I observed these songbird enthusiasts gathered at void decks near coffeeshops chatting while their birds chirped away nearby, sometimes to my annoyance. However, I was always curious about how these songbirds could sing so beautifully and what sets their singing apart from another bird. Going into the project, I think what fascinated me most about songbird rearing was how these older gentlemen, who often look big and burly, could take care of such a small, delicate and beautiful thing. It was such a big contrast.
What have you gained through this writing experience? Could you share about your research journey?
Throughout the writing experience, I think what I have gained the most is understanding how different hobbyists do their part to keep the hobby of songbird rearing alive. Given that there are only a handful of hobbyists in Singapore, the efforts made by every hobbyist counts. Whether it is helping to guide new hobbyists or helping to organise competitions through the birdsinging clubs, every small contribution helps to keep the art alive.
Through talking to the various hobbyists, reading interviews done by others and researching online on the various competitions organised by the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club, which is one of the last few birdsinging clubs in Singapore, I understood these efforts better.
Furthermore, I also understood the history of songbird rearing in Singapore a bit better. Given that the hobby used to be rather popular in the 70s and 80s, I was curious about how it reduced in popularity and throughout the journey, was able to understand how the hobby has changed over time. The writing process allowed me to understand more about such local hobbies.
Who would you recommend MUSE SG to?
I would recommend MUSE SG to anyone interested in knowing more about the different local practices and hobbies we have. Singapore may be a young nation, but we have a rich culture and many different local practices are not often talked about, even though they are an important part of our local heritage. Reading MUSE SG would allow readers to better understand our cultural history and heritage.