More than Devil Curry
Joseph Schooling’s Olympic gold for Singapore has shone the spotlight on the tiny Eurasian community. Here’s what you should know about Eurasians
SINGAPORE — So, how did Eurasians come to be in Singapore anyway? A Eurasian is someone who has both Asian and European ancestry. Many Singaporean Eurasians trace their heritage to European colonisation in Asia, first of the Portuguese in Asia back in the 1500s (in Malacca, Sri Lanka, Goa and Timor), then the Dutch (Malacca, Sri Lanka and Indonesia) and finally the British.
Some of these Eurasians came to Singapore to seek their fortunes and ended up settling here, just as ancestors of other Singaporeans, who journeyed from India, China, Indonesia and the Middle East. Some were born in Singapore as first-generation Eurasians, from unions between Europeans and Asians. It was also the norm then for Eurasians to marry within their community, producing second- or third-generation Eurasian children.
According to the census in 2010, the Eurasian population here is at 0.4 per cent of the population, or 15,581 in total. Despite the small population, the Eurasians have made a significant impact here. Here are five other things to know about them.
SPORTS IS KIND OF THEIR THING
Even before Joseph Schooling’s scintillating win at this 2016 Rio Olympics, Eurasians have enjoyed a long history of excellence in sports. This goes back to the colonial era, when Eurasian families valued sports as character building.
In 1931, Alice Pennefather, of Scottish-Japanese descent, became Singapore’s first women’s singles badminton champion at the Singapore National Badminton Championships. She continued to win titles until the 1950s. The versatile sportswoman was also the first non-European Singapore Ladies Tennis Champion in 1936.
It was the Eurasians who formed the Singapore Hockey Association in 1931. In 1956, the Singapore hockey team went to the Melbourne Olympics. The team placed eighth, ahead of Malaya. Half of the team comprised Eurasians, including captain Percy Pennefather, Rudy Mosbergen and Osbert Rozario.
Edmund William Barker, former Minister for Law (1964 to 1988), was the first President of the Singapore National Olympic Council. He led the construction of the National Stadium in the 1970s. He was a star athlete and captain of the soccer team at Raffles Institution, and was of Portuguese, Irish, Japanese, Scottish, Malay and German heritage. His Portuguese great-great-great grandfather Dr Jose D Almeida (1784 to 1850) was one of the first 10 Europeans to settle in Singapore.
THEY STARTED THE SINGAPORE RECREATION CLUB (SRC)
The formation of the SRC in 1883 was a reaction by the Eurasian community against the Singapore Cricket Club’s barring of non-Europeans. They set up their own sports club exclusively for Eurasians, the SRC, on the Padang directly opposite the Singapore Cricket Club. In 1955, club membership was opened to non-Eurasians.
THERE ARE ROADS NAMED AFTER THEM
Named after Singapore’s first Eurasian millionaire, Cashin, a lawyer’s clerk in the 1880s who invested in opium farming and property.
Named after Andre Filipe Desker (1826 to 1898). He was born in Malacca and became a philanthropist to Singapore’s Catholic schools and churches.
Named after orchid cultivator Emile Galistan, founder of the Malayan Orchid Society. One of his best-known hybrids, the Aranda Hilda Galistan, is named after his wife.
Named after lawyer Edwin Koek, a Malaccan of Dutch-descent, who practised in the 1870s and 1880s.
Named after Richard Owen Norris and George Norris, sons of an officer in the East India Company. Richard Norris’ great-granddaughter, Noel Evelyn Norris, was principal of Raffles Girls’ School from 1961 to 1977.
Named after Edwin Tessensohn (1855 to 1926), who came to Singapore from Malacca in his teens. He was the first Eurasian to be a nominated member of the Legislative Council and in 1894, became the president of the Singapore Recreation Club.
THEY ACTUALLY HAVE THEIR OWN MOTHER TONGUE(S)
Eurasians, having many threads of heritage, may technically count various European and Asian languages among their wealth of mother tongue inheritance, such as Dutch, English, French, Indonesian, Chinese and the Indian languages.
The mother tongue spoken by the Portuguese Eurasians from Malacca, though, is a creole language called Kristang — a creole is any language formed by an intermarriage of two other languages — developed from the presence of the Portuguese in Malaya. Kristang comprises a largely Malay grammatical structure and Portuguese vocabulary.
It is an endangered language, with less than 100 fluent speakers in Singapore, most of whom are elderly. There is currently a revival movement among younger Eurasians to learn this language before it is lost, initiated by National University of Singapore linguistics undergraduate Kevin Martens Wong. For information on Kristang classes, check out https://www.facebook.com/kodrahkristang.
THEY HAVE A WIDE VARIETY OF SURNAMES
Many Eurasians have European surnames, which can tell you what countries their European ancestors came from. Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list:
Germany: Hochstadt, Keller, Klass, Neubronner, Oehlers, Schooling (an anglicised variant of Schilling)
Britain: Batchelor, Branson, Campbell (Scottish), Clarke, Hogan, Leicester, Moss, Scully (Irish), Shepherdson, Smith
Denmark: Jensen, Lange, Olsen
The Netherlands: Ess, Hoeden, Marbeck, Minjoot, van Cuylenberg, Vanderstraaten, Westerhout
Portugal: Aeria, Carvalho, Coelho, Cordeiro, De Almeida, De Cotta, De Silva, De Souza, Gomez, Lazaroo, Nonis, Oliveiro, Pestana, Pereira, Pinto, Rodrigues, Theseira
Melissa De Silva writes about Eurasian culture and identity at https://eurasiansg.com. She has been published in literary journals in the United States, Singapore and Hong Kong. She is currently working on a novel about Eurasian identity.