Jeffrey Low <email@example.com>
Date: Mon, 5 Sep 2005 10:47:06 +0100 (BST)
Subject: [nature-singapore] Names of our islands
Some time ago I asked
if people knew the meanings behind the names of some of the islands
of Singapore. I may request your help again when I dig up more names,
but for now, my thanks to all who responded. The English translations
with questions marks are my guesses :)
Those who responded
(that I know of): Hedwig Anuar, Anwar Hadi, Chim Chee Kong, Chua Ai
Ling, Ivy Lee, Ngiam Shih Tung, Timothy Pwee, Ilsa Sharp, Bonny Tan
1. Pulau Blakang
Literal translation: "blakang" means behind and "mati"
means dead, thus "Island where Death lurks from Behind", also
"Island Beyond Death". Sentosa means "tranquility",
a modern name chosen by public poll.
2. Pulau Sakijang Bandera (St John's Island)
Literal translation: "sa" means one, "kijang"
means barking deer and "bandera" is a flag, so presumably
"Island of One Barking Deer and Flags"? "St John's Island"
could have been derived from when it was used as a quarantine for (infectious
3. Pulau Sakijang Pelepah (Lazarus Island)
Literal translation: "sa" means one, "kijang"
means barking deer, "pelepah" is a palm frond, so presumably
"Island of One Barking Deer and Palms"? Why it was renamed
to Lazarus Island is not known (perhpas something to do with Lazarus
who was raised from the dead in the bible?).
4. Pulau Tembakul (Peak
Island, Kusu Island)
Literal translation: "tembakul" means mudfish. Why
it is called Peak Island is not known. Kusu means "tortoise",
thus "Tortoise Island".
5. Pulau Seringat
Literal translation: meaning of "seringat" is not
known; however "ingat" means to remember.
6. Pulau Tekukor (also known as Pulau Penyabong)
Literal translation: "tekukor" means turtle dove
or spotted neck dove, so presumably "Turtle Dove Island" or
"Island of Turtle Doves"? Meaning of "penyabong"
is not known.
7. Pulau Subar Darat and Laut (The Sisters)
Literal translation: "subar" means fruitful, not
sure how that relates to the pirates and sisters in the legend?
8. Pulau Brani
Literal translation: "brani" means brave, thus "Island
of the Brave".
9. Pulau Bukom
Literal translation: "bukom" means tail-less.
10. Pulau Ular
Literal translation: "ular" means snake, presumably
11. Pulua Hantu
Literal translation: "hantu" means ghost, presumably
"Ghost Island" or "Island of Ghosts"?
12. Pulau Semakau
Literal translation: meaning of "semakau" is not
known, but "semak" means scrub or undergrowth.
13. Pulau Sebarok
Literal translation: meaning of "sebarok" is not
known, but "baroh" means lowlands.
14. Pulau Sakeng
Literal translation: "sakeng" means heavy, greatest.
15. Pulau Jong
Literal translation: "jong" (arabic origin) meaning
junk, now means a light sailing canoe with outrigger boom.
16. Terumbu Pandan (Cyrene Reefs)
Literal translation: "pandan" means screw pine; "cyrene"
means a wall; coldness; the floor; also a city (now Tripoli) in Upper
Libya, North Africa, founded by a colony of Greeks (B.C. 630). Presumably
"cyrene" was seen as a "wall" to ships navigating
17. Pulau Busing
Literal translation: meaning of "busing" is not known,
perhaps a corruption of the malay word "pusing" which means
to turn, or "besing" meaning noisy?
18. Terumbu Pempang Darat, Tengah and Laut
Literal translation: "terumbu" describes a reef that
is visible at low tide; the meaning of "pempang" is not known,
perhaps it is a corruption of the malay word "bemban" meaning
fish traps; the 3 reefs were further distinguished from each depending
on their relative position to land (ie "darat" near shore,
"tengah" the middle reef, and "laut" the reef nearest
the open sea).
19. Pulau Salu
Literal translation: meaning of "salu" is not known,
but could be a corruption of the malay word "salur" or "salor",
meaning watercourse or channel.
20. Pulau Sudong
Literal translation: meaning of "sudong" is not known.
21. Pulau Pawai
Literal translation: "pawai" means cortege, procession
or parade or suite of the raja, presumably the retinue of the raja stayed
there for some reason?
22. Pulau Senang
Literal translation: "senang" means easy or confortable,
so it was presumably an island of comfort, given that the "procession
of the raja" was next to it? The island also used to be a prison
for hard core prisoners, and "senang" could be an ironic term
for the island.
23. Pulau Biola
Literal translation: "biola" means violin, presumably
"Violin Island", becasue of its shape?
24. Pulau Satumu (Raffles Lighthouse)
Literal translation: "satumu" means one tree, thus
"One Tree Island". Alternative theory is that it is the misspelling
of the malay word "temu", meaning favourable or suitable.
Literal translation: meaning of "pemalang" is not
known, perhaps a corruption of the malay word "permatang"
meaning sand hill? Alternative: "malang" is Javanese for hidden
26. Terumbu Raya
Literal translation: "terumbu" means reef, "raya"
means great or large, presumably "The Great Reef", due to
27. Terumbu Bemban
Literal translation: "bemban" means to roast, is
a kind of fish trap, shrub whose stems used to make baskets - perhaps
this was a place for fishing or used to have the plants in abundance?
28. Terumbu Bayan
Literal translation: "bayan" means clear, presumably
"Clear Water Reef" or "Reef in Clear Water"?
Thanks to Chim Chee Kong, Ivy Lee and Hedwig Anuar.
- Toponymics : a study of Singapore
Authors: Victor R Savage & Brenda S A Yeoh
Publisher: Eastern Universities Press, 2003.
- Tales from the Islands of Singapore
/ Ron Chandran-Dudley
Call number: Y R SING 398.2095957 CHA
- Stories of the Islands of Singapore
and Malaysia / Qiu Min
Call number: Y R SING 398.209595 QM
Thanks to Bonny Tan, Ivy Lee and Ria Tan
InfoXpress at http://ix.lib.gov.sg (search for Pulau, link doesn't seem
to work though)
posted by Jeffrey Low to Nature
Singapore mailing list on 05 Sep 2005.