Scenes 4 and 7

The legacy of Raffles as an individual is quite a fascinating one, considering how in our national narratives there is little mention of him as anything other than the “founder of modern Singapore”. While his time in Java makes for grim reading, Sarong Party is not concerned with Raffles the person. Rather, we examine the way his name has developed into a symbol for multiple things, all of which seem to be positive.

The staging for this recalls some of the “wayang’, or excessive drama, arranged for royal visitations. It is interesting to note how glowing press coverage continues to be, and the excitement the average person seems to generate, whenever the Queen and her offspring come to town. This, dismayingly, seems to be the prevalent attitude towards the colonial brand and all its accompanying superheroes. The Crown, Raffles, Churchill, Mountbatten et al are all colonial criminals in one way or another, but you would never know that if you read a textbook here.

Scene 7 invokes the voices of more ordinary persons, recounting sentiments at two British exits – the Japanese surrender, and the British military’s withdrawal in 1971. The title “Dance” recalls the last party the colonials supposedly had on the night before the surrender at Raffles Hotel. It is a way of acknowledging that as individuals, we are often passengers of fate, but that we nevertheless have agency as we try to build a post-colonial society free from the dark sides of colonial legacies.

Scene 4: Let Him Stand in 3 Movements

I. Illuminence

Chorus Ecce Homo qui furatus fabam! (Behold the man who stole the beans!)
Band Please rise for the anthem of Raffles Institution.
Chorus When Stamford Raffles held the torch
That cast Promethean flame
We faced the challenge of the day
To give our school a name
The eagle eye and gryphon strength
They led us to the fore
To reign supreme in every sphere
The sons of Singapore
Come heed the call Rafflesians all
And let our hearts be stirring
We’ll do our best whate’er the test
And keep our colours flying
Let comradeship and fervent hope
With one voice make us pray
Auspicium Melioris Aevi
With God to guide the way.
Solo Voice Oh God! Oh Light! Oh foresight!
How apt that an institution
So esteemed in reputation
For it always ranks first in education
should be named for her founder
A man of such great honour
For what name is more exaltable,
What name more laudable,
What name more formidable than Raffles?
Band For where would the natives be
Without this Promethean divinity
The torch he shone
The foresight shown
Was it just gunboat diplomacy? (Chorus: No!)For forty five years the title was changeable, until they stuck with the name most suitable
Raffles the man has nothing on Raffles the brand so let him stand, let him stand
So let him stand, let him stand
Solo Voice “Would that I could infuse into the Institiution a portion of that spirit and soul by which I would have it animated as easily as I endow it with lands.”
So cross the seas Rafflesians all!
Take up that scholarship offer
Across the world there’s none as prolific as thee
At filling Oxbridge’s coffers
Band For where would the natives be
Without this natural aristocracy
When only 53 percent
Stay in HDB flats
Is it meritocracy (Chorus: Yes!)Glory be Glory be to the (founding) father!
Our fishing village by the sea, is now a post-Brexit fantasy, oh historical ironyRaffles is a brand because Raffles had a plan so let him stand, oh let him stand
Let him stand

II. Luxury

Chorus Let him stand, let him stand
Let him stand for luxury
Immerse yourself in this opulent reality!
Band Only the finest and best can take comfort at the breast of Raffles
Only the established elite can suckle at the teat of Raffles
You can raise your expectations
When “colonial’s” the perception
It’s five-starred hospitality (Chorus: “5 stars arising”)
Where not a sprinkle of dust must settle on the bust of RafflesYou step out a taxi and what do you see?
Men dressed up in an Englishman’s fantasy
Of how Indians were dressed in their finery
If the British Raj lived in perpetuityLord Louis Mountbatten hold up your hands
Withdrawing from India without much of a plan
You should have just done as in Singapore we do
Equate “colony” with “luxury”, we’ll name a road after you

Come explore the hotel where Kipling lay: it’s Raffles!
(Chorus: Take up the white man’s burden!)
A thousand miles south of Mandalay: it’s Raffles!
(Chorus: Come back you British soldier!)
External validation of a colonial persuasion
Makes it certified and guaranteed
Only the crème de la crème can have biscuits and jam at Raffles

III. Rafflesia arnoldii

Lee Kuan Yew, 8th December, 1996:

“When Winsemius presented his report to me in 1961, he laid two pre-conditions for Singapore’s success: first, to eliminate the communists who made any economic progress impossible; second, not to remove the statue of Stamford Raffles. To tell me in 1961 that I should eliminate the communists when the Communist United Front was at the height of its powers and pulverizing the PAP government day after day flabbergasted me. I gave a mirthless laugh. He knew only too well how tough the communist unions were. To keep Raffles’ statue was easy. My colleagues and I had no desire to rewrite the past and perpetuate ourselves by renaming streets or buildings after ourselves or putting our faces on postage stamps or currency notes. Winsemius said we would need large scale technical, managerial, entrepreneurial and marketing know-how from America and Europe. Investors wanted to see what the new socialist government in Singapore was going to do to the statue of Raffles. Letting it remain would be a symbol of public acceptance of the legacy of the British and could have a positive effect. I had not looked at it that way, but I was quite happy to leave this monument because he was the founder of modern Singapore.”


Scene 7: Dance

Ibrahim Isa

We listened from radio news, the people said, “Now, the British have surrendered already.”. So everybody was happy. They thought once the British surrendered, you start your life as normal.

We had no experience, we only thought Japanese, they are kind people. When they were the shopkeepers, you approached them, they were very polite. Actually most of the Middle Road at that time were occupied by Japanese shopkeepers. So we thought that Japanese would be polite, we never thought that they were so wicked.

Goh Koh Pui

That was panic. As soon as news of their [Repulse and Prince of Wales] sinking were announced over the radio, most of the people who could run away would run away by boats or ships. And some of the Singaporeans who were rich enough to go up to Malaysia, they even went up by train, motor-cars bringing their families. Of course, many of them were sunk in the sea by submarines. And there was sporadic bombing in Singapore destroying many houses. And I was quite brave, I still went to work on my bicycle.

Darling come take my hand
We’ll while the hours away
Darling just hold me close
We’re nearing the end of the day

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow will be
Shrouded in a cloud of mystery
But darling you know I’ll be
Reliving our history
Holding you close to me

Step to the left
Return to the right
And then we’ll bid goodbye to the world we know
Rise and fall
And after it all
Today will seem a lifetime ago

Mosbergen, Rudy William

My father was (an) Anglophile. He believed everything the British said. The Japanese, they were caricatured as short fellows, five foot nothing; even their swords were longer than themselves. Every Japanese was pictured as a Bugs Bunny fellow with two front teeth. All Japanese were shown to be wearing spectacles. So how can these people win against us? And my father was a great believer in the British. He believed in British propaganda. Of course, I was a young boy, I didn’t know anything and I began, I suppose by agreeing with him. And it was only later that when the British started losing and things started going wrong that I began to have doubts.

Singh Mehervan

I got a job because of the war, I was rejected by the Singapore government and yet I got a job because the war broke out (in Europe). We did the work honestly but with no enthusiastic patriotism for Britain. A section of the community was interested in the foreword bloc of Subhas Chandra Bose, as against the Indian National Congress, that was more radical, more anti British. Indian National Congress was more political I showed no enthusiasm for either, though I was aware of the atrocities by the British authorities in the Pujab, particularly. Most young Indians in Singapore were non committed like me.

So, we were just doing what we could, without upsetting anybody. And yet here, in the brain we were anti British.

Darling, take me on a dance
We’ll make our last stance
Tomorrow you’ll be dancing
In somebody else’s arms

We’re marionettes on a string
Fools to the games that fortune brings
Darling is this what we get
For looking before we leapt
It’s too late for regrets

Param Ajeet Singh Bal

The withdrawal [of the British Military from Singapore] definitely was very dismaying news for the family and relatives apart from my dad who had shops in Changi and in Tanglin headquarters depending on the land forces in the Tanglin area and [the Royal] Air Force in Changi. We thought that it was difficult to switch [business] because [my father] was getting old in age and depending completely on them.

Besides that, I had some relatives – uncles and cousins working for the British forces. We didn’t welcome the news.

My understanding was that out of about 25,000 civilians who were working for the armed forces, about 10.000 left, emigrated. Mostly, I think they were from South India – near Kerala and some [from] North India like [the] Sikhs either went back to their villages or they went to the UK. About 15,000 were able to find jobs in Singapore. By 1969 or’70, one of my uncles got a job on the timber board and another one got a job in a chit fund company – the Gemini Chit Fund. Another one started his own business So it was not bad at a personal level.

When it came to Singapore at the national level, again we were lucky because by that time our economy had picked up. Entrepôt trade was restored. Companies started manufacturing and growing. Credit must go to the EDB. They did a good job. They started getting these multinational companies coming here. They were the companies who were prepared to put a lot of money in and create a lot of employment. At the same time, we had set up these flatted factories. We found a lot of womenfolk [who] could go and work in garment factories, where they can assemble, pack an all that – clean industries. So the British pull out didn’t turn out to be so bad after all. We managed it, you see.

Abide with me fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord with me abide
We’ve had our moment in the sun
But even best laid plans come undone
And so we dance, we dance