Reflections on “Tales of the Forbidden Hill” heritage trail ( Singapore Heritagefest 2014 event)

Tales of the Forbidden Hill: Bukit Larangan & The Kingdom of Temasek
Report by Tan Siying
Date: 26 July 2014

How much do you know about Fort Canning Hill? Do you know why Fort Canning Hill was also known as ‘the Forbidden Hill’ in the past?

The walking trail titled ‘Tales of the Forbidden Hill: Bukit Larangan and The Kingdom of Temasek’ was conducted by the History Society, and aimed to illuminate myths behind 14th century Singapore with a focus on Fort Canning Hill. The trail covered five main sites namely the Archaeological site, Raffles Hill, the Mural Walls, Parit Singapura and the Keramat of Sultan Iskandar Shah. Participants of the trail had the chance to explore legends surrounding Fort Canning as well as understand why the Hill was once deemed as forbidden. It was also heart-warming to see several participants from the Singapore River trail return to join us that day.

Along the way, Fort Canning Cemetery came into view and many participants were astonished to find out that a cemetery existed on Fort Canning and posed queries about the origins of the remains. At the Archaeological site, the participants were intrigued by the different soil layers present and were interested about the various artefacts found. The main question that many participants had was why the site was specifically chosen and what the presence of various artefacts meant.

The flora of the Fort Canning Hill also caught the interest of many as they named various species of plants which the untrained eye would not be able to detect. They also shared their own memories of Fort Canning which made the steep walk up to the Raffles House area less dreary. These memories provided a new insight to touring Fort Canning and were certainly valuable experiences. At the Raffles Hill which was the summit of Fort Canning, participants got to experience for themselves how the previous kings felt as they overlooked the economic and social activities of the North Bank then. Many also questioned if Raffles did really live in the house back then and were saddened to hear that he did not.

The path to the mural wall allowed participants a view of Clarke Quay and they were impressed by the changes that Singapore had seen over the years, although participants expressed a slight disappointment that they could no longer see the Singapore River. The mural walls were a contemporary addition but it blended well into the natural environment of Fort Canning Hill. They allowed participants to view major historical events on the island from the 14th to 18th century at one glance, and it was certainly interesting to follow the changes on the island.
According to legends, Singapore had a moat and a wall which ran along a stream. This was most probably where Parit Singapura (or the ‘Moat of Singapore’) was. Although the stream has dried up, myths surrounding the stream still exist and were deeply fascinating for the younger generation who had no prior knowledge of the stream before the trail. They raised questions with regards to the origin and the end of the stream.

Before heading to the Keramat of Sultan Iskandar Shah, participants were briefed on issues to be aware of and it was reassuring to see participants treat the Keramat with utmost respect. The main query on everyone’s mind was whether the Keramat was a real tomb or a commemorative tomb constructed as a mark of respect for the previous Malay ruler. Amidst the controversies surrounding the tomb, the guides were unable to provide a definite answer but explained to the best of their abilities why they believed it was only a commemorative tomb. Participants were also curious about the good condition of the Keramat, and subsequently found out that the Keramat was not the original structure.

The visit of the Keramat marked the end of the trail and the guides summarized reasons for why Fort Canning used to be forbidden. They include that facts that it used to be a royal site, thus leading to the divide between the people living on the hill and the peasants who live at the bottom of the hill, as well as the myth of the Forbidden Spring in which women of the royal family were fond of bathing in, and the king thereby prevent commoners from accessing the hill to protect the chastity of his women. It was certainly encouraging for the guides to receive applause and the undivided attention from the participants. We hope to see the participants again for other events which the History Society may hold next time!

Tan Siying is currently a Year 2 History Major.

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