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Fri 13 Jul 2007
A lexicographical correction to that very tall tale of the swordfish attack of Singapore
Category : heritage
Roger Toi contends it was hardwood and not the shins of man that were the first (failed) line of defense against marauding swordfish.
05 Jul 2007 - Chua Ai Lin posted to members of the Singapore Heritage Mailing list an extract of Roger Toi's 6-page article which re-examines "the Sejarah Melayu and argues that existing translations have misinterpreted the swordfish attack story."
"The Persistent Misinterpretation of the Swordfish attack on Singapore." By Roger Tol, 2007. Indonesia and the Malay World, 35 (102): 247 - 252. [NUS Digital Library link (login required)]
"One of the many intriguing sub-plots in the traditional Malay work Sulalatus Salatin or Sejarah Melayu concerns the story of the swordfish attack on Singapore.
The article was an enjoyable read. He attempts to make sense of a nonsensical defense against the swordfish attack by a shield of shins. A lexicological investigation suggests that the original scripts instead refer to an inadequate hardwood defense which the the swordfish leapt over to fall upon the people in a deadly rain of spears.
The rest is, erm, history? The boy's suggestion of a banana-stem barricade wins the day, the king's advisors whom he listens to in this instance regard his intelligence a threat, and the boy forfeits his life. This ignominious act marks demise of Singapore. It should be a depressing story, I suppose, but Roger Toi's prose is upbeat.
The story has more problems than the shin defense, for fishermen find the accusation against the mild-tempered swordfish slanderous, with one even protested to NHB about its 'unkind' depiction during Heritage Fest ?2005. Biologists support the dissent, for swordfish in Singapore are rare and accidental, foreigners to our shallow waters and the East Coast Black Marlin of 1986 is called a "stray". All do agree that garfish are a more likely contender for accidental spearings of people at least, for we continue to hear of incidents every other decade or so. Even then, of individuals and not the masses.
Still, nothing is better than a tall tale, and nothing more dramatic than the depiction of a swordfish poised in mid-air above the sea, about to rain down upon helpless horrified natives with a flick of a tail.
Just see the drawings Ivan Chew made for the opening of the Bukit Merah Community Library in 2005 and subsequently featured in Habitatnews.
We are, in fact, going to print those out to aid our story-telling for the upcoming Heritage Fest.
If you'd rather hear than read or view the story, listen to Moses Lim tell the story in an episode of Explore Singapore!