The small bustling city with close to 6 million citizens might seem like an uneventful country, but it is in fact a thriving country made up of different cultures. These intangible cultures consist of food heritage, traditions, performing arts, rituals, crafts, and knowledge that are passed down from generation to generation. In Singapore, the cultures are a mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, and other ethnicities. Throughout the years of co-existence in the same country, certain traditions of culture may have been adopted by another. An example is a practice of giving red packets to the younger ones during Chinese New Year. This tradition was subsequently picked up by the Malay communities in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, which resulted in the distribution of green packets during Hari Raya Puasa.
The largest ethnic group in Singapore is the Chinese. Most of the older Chinese population made their way to Singapore from Guangdong and Fujian, and they tend to speak the dialect of Hokkien and Teochew. Other commonly spoken dialects are Cantonese, Hainanese, and Hakka. In the 19th century, the Chinese typically worked as coolies or samsui women. The latter has a distinctive red cloth that is worn on their head to catch people’s attention and thus, resulting in a decrease in injuries at the construction site. Some of the popular Chinese dishes include dim sum (Cantonese dishes), abacus seed (Hakka dish), and Buddha Jumps Over the Wall (Hokkien dish).
Before Singapore was named “Singapore”, she was known as “Singapura”. The term comes from two Malay words – “Singa” for lion and “Pura” for city. With the Malay origins and them being the original inhabitant of the lion city, the government decided on Malay as the official language of Singapore. Currently, they are the second-largest ethnic group. Several of the well-known Malay dishes include nasi lemak, lontong, mee rebus, and mee goreng.
The third-largest ethnic group in Singapore are the Indians. Most of the Indian ancestors came from Southern India and most of the Indians residing in Singapore are either of ethnic Tamil ancestry or Hindus. Upon their arrival in Singapore after 1819, they started setting up trade businesses and dominated in certain trades such as moneylenders, commodities, and finances. Some of the popular Indian dishes include thosai, briyani, butter chicken, samosa, roti prata, and naan.
Since the early 19th century, Eurasians (a mix of European and Asian ancestry) have made their way to and settled in Singapore. Most of the Eurasians who arrived after 1819 worked as clerks in the public sector, banks, or as nurses and teachers. Must-try Eurasian signature dishes include the sugee cake, devil’s curry, and fish moolie.
Regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or language, everyone will definitely feel welcomed in a multi-racial country like Singapore. Racial Harmony Day, which falls on 21st July every year, is also observed in Singapore to commemorate the race riot in 1964 and to cultivate stronger relationships between individuals with different racial backgrounds.
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