The original Temasek, Tan-ma-hsi, or sea-town was
reportedly a barren island inhabited by barbarians who
were addicted to piracy, pillaging and plundering the
hapless Yuan traders on their return voyages with their
junks heavily laden with goods.
|The grand admiral
Cheng-ho is credited with sailing his fleet
through Keppel Harbour while homeward bound on
his seventh voyage in 1433, and his maritime
expeditions were recorded in the Wu Pei Chih
charts compiled by Mao Yuan-Yi.
||Later the seaport of
Temasek, founded in 1297 AD, was reportedly a
thriving trading centre under the Sumatra-based
Hindu Sri Vijaya commercial empire. Historians
referred to Temasek as the Constantinople of the
eastern seas, a seat of learning and busy
commercial centre. Temasek was also maintained as
the southern sentinel at the end of the Malacca
This once-prosperous sea-town had fatalistically
become the eyesore of the Buddhist Majapahit
empire in Java, and therefore it was savagely
destroyed by its forces in 1377.
Rumour has it that blood literally flowed over
wide stretches of cultivation, and, consequently,
rice - the staple food of Asians - has stubbornly
refused to grow in Singapore.
The next occupation force of Temasek has been the
historically shrewd Siamese whose reign was
briefly interrupted by Paramesware [Sanskrit for
Almighty] around 1400. A refugee Palembang
[Sumatra] Hindu prince who was to have married a
Majapahit princess, Parameswara arrived in
Temasek for safety.
Seizing the opportunity to set up court, he
murdered the Siamese representative. Soon fear of
reprisal had him run for his life, to Muar and
the Malacca where he established the Malacca
empire, the forerunner of the Islamic Malay
Hindu Parameswara's misdemeanour and hindsight
had left Temasek in oblivion until 1819 but his
extraordinary ability and charisma had
contributed to making Malacca the largest and
most prosperous trading centre in Southeast Asia
in the fifteenth century.
His conversion to Islam and timely request for
China's protection [admiral Yin Ching in 1403]
against a possible Siamese threat had paved for
the Malay peninsula a golden future.
It could very well have been Parameswara's
Singapura, an extension or even a
re-establishment of a tiny Sri Vijaya or
Majapahit empire at his southern tip of the Malay
peninsula, the half-way house between the Indian
and the Pacific oceans.
The waterway emerged as a well-defined route in
the sixteenth century when Portuguese mariners,
in their carracks and caravels, travelled
frequently through the Malacca Straits and the
South China Sea on voyages between Cochin
(Kerala) and Macau.
In the Commentaries of the great Alfonso de
Albuquerque it was significantly referred to as
the "gate to Singapura," a term that
recurred as "gate of Tan-ma-hsi" in a
Chinese pilots' directory of the seventeenth
However, to the Portuguese pilots, who knew of no
other route, it was Estreito Singapura, the
"Strait of Singapura," and it was so
described by the Dutchman Jan Huyghen van
Linschoten, who compiled and published the first
detailed sailing directions for the Singapore
Strait in 1595.'