After nine consecutive nights of activity between Zeus and Mnemosyne, the nine Muses were born. While many of these personified what we, in our modern understanding, would classify as arts and sciences, it is intriguing to note that Clio, the Muse of history is amongst the offspring. Indeed, it is interesting to note how the concept of history of “history” has developed over the course of Western history, from what is apparently an “art”, to its contemporary role as method of recounting events or people as they were. Every society has its myths, and through its parabolic nature, these stories still have much to teach us today.
For the Greeks of antiquity, Zeus was the king of gods and therefore represented power and authority while Mnemosyne was the goddess of memory. What is History, and what is Art, if nothing less than the potent by product of the copulation of Power and Memory.
Sarong Party attempts to look at Singapore’s colonial historiography. While it has become a bit of a cliché to quote Orwell and say that “who controls the past controls the future”, we would explicate that for Sarong Party by adding that whoever controls the memory of the past controls the present and future.
It would be artistically uncontroversial to write a show that casts a moral judgment on colonialism. While there is sometimes the misconception that the British were largely benign (in a YouGov poll, 49% of respondents thought that “countries that were colonized by Britain are better off … for being colonized” as compared with just 15% who thought otherwise, and 59% thought that the “British Empire” was more something to be proud of”), the inexhaustible list of colonial crimes is incontrovertible evidence that colonialism was an evil enterprise that brought suffering to scores of peoples. However, we have chosen to focus on colonial legacies, something that is perhaps thought less about.
More specifically, we will make the argument that the ghosts of colonialism past continue to haunt contemporary society and entrench power structures and imbalances. It is not easy for many postcolonial societies to have an honest inquiry into their colonial pasts for the reason that the powers-that-be have, in many cases, either benefited from being colonial collaborators, or exploited colonial legacies post-decolonisation to accumulate power in their ostensibly new worlds. Neither of these reasons should be particularly shocking, “old money” is easily traced, and in every social or political revolution, it is almost always an urban elite who have knowledge of state apparatus who have managed to seize control.
Within a 2-hour long performance, it is of course impossible to go into either great topical depths or even explore a wide thematic breadth. For Sarong Party, therefore, 5 legacies shape the musical work. These are, in order of discussion, borders, language, nature, the colonial brand and historiography of the Raffles name, and the legal and legislative. Each of these, we would argue, has been coopted by contemporary Singapore in ways that have benefited certain social strata. This is not to say that this has never worked out in a way that has helped Singapore develop rapidly, in some cases it obviously has, but we are merely exploring how power has been accumulated through the ownership of these legacies. Ultimately, we believe that if there was a greater knowledge of how and why historical baggage impedes progress towards greater equality, then perhaps as a society, we can find better solutions to present day problems. Ignoring the elephant does no one any good, but neither should we allow these mammoths trumpet so loudly that all other voices are drowned out.