Eurasian community



The Eurasian community is a small but influential ethnic group that has been present in Singapore since the early 19th century. Eurasians are persons with mixed European and Asian lineage. Most Eurasians in Singapore can trace the European part of their ancestry to the Portuguese, Dutch or British, while others are of Danish, French, German, Italian or Spanish descent. The Asian component of their ancestry is usually derived from the Chinese, Malays or Indians.

Historical background
The origins of the Eurasians can be traced to the Europeans traders, administrators and private individuals who travelled to Asia between the 16th and 20th centuries. The Portuguese were among the earliest Europeans to arrive in Asia, exerting their presence in India from 1505 and in Malacca from 1511 to 1641.1 Unions between the Portuguese and local women were encouraged, resulting in Eurasian descendants in India, Malacca and Macau. Many of these Eurasians would later settle in Singapore at different times. Eurasian families also emerged from Dutch settlements in Malacca, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), as well as from British colonies in Penang, India and Bencoolen (now the Indonesian city of Bengkulu).2

One of the first Eurasians to have lived in Singapore was Thomasz Farrao from Penang.3 He arrived in Singapore a few years after the British founded the settlement in 1819 and was one of the first settlers to own land on the island.4 By 1821, it was noted that there were 12 Catholics of Malaccan-Portuguese origin in Singapore.5 The term “Eurasian” was first used around 1820 to describe people of European-Asian parentage.6 However, the term was only used in the official records of the Straits Settlements from around 1849.7

The 1931 census records list 6,900 Eurasians living in Singapore at the time. The Eurasian population in Singapore continued to grow after World War II, but never comprised more than 2.2 percent of the island’s population.8 The 1950s and 1960s saw a mass emigration of Eurasians to the United Kingdom, Australia and other Commonwealth countries following the withdrawal of British personnel from Singapore. Many Eurasians, however, stayed behind and filled senior positions in the civil service.9 In the post-independence years, the Eurasian community continued to shrink in numbers as a result of assimilation through inter-marriages with other ethnic groups and continued emigration.

In recent years, the Eurasian Association has played a major role in uniting the community and developing a stronger shared identity. The association has also expanded the definition of Eurasian to include any person of mixed European and Asian parentage. Previously, only persons whose fathers were of European origin or who had European surnames were considered Eurasian. In 2012, there were about 17,000 Eurasians in Singapore.10

Occupations
During the colonial period, many Eurasians held white-collar jobs and were employed as clerks in the civil service, European banks, commercial and trading houses. A substantial number of Eurasian women also worked, mainly as teachers and nurses.11


The Eurasians had an advantage over the other ethnic communities in colonial Singapore because of their fluency in the English language as well as their familiarity with the habits and customs of the British colonial administrators. Furthermore, as most Eurasians were Christians, they had better access to mission schools and thus tended to be better educated.12

Associations

The Eurasians established several associations during the colonial period. In 1883, the Eurasian community set up the Singapore Recreation Club (SRC) as a sports club to provide Eurasians with opportunities and facilities to play team sports, especially cricket.13 Located at the Padang, the SRC grew from a sports club into a full-fledged club with a clubhouse and social activities. It soon became a focal point for the Eurasian community. Due to a lack of funds, non-Eurasians were permitted to join the club as members from the 1950s.14


Another Eurasian association was the Girls’ Sports Club (GSC) established in 1929.15 At the time, the SRC was an exclusively male club and so the GSC was set up to encourage sporting activity among Eurasian women. The club was initially named the Goldburn Sports Club after the family who loaned their premises to the club. However, the club’s name was changed to the GSC when it shifted premises in 1930. The GSC was significant in pioneering new sports such as hockey and netball in Singapore. In 1971, membership to the GSC was opened to all ethnic groups.16

The Eurasian Association is the main organisation representing the Eurasian community today. The association was established in 1919 with the objectives of promoting the advancement and looking after the interests of the Eurasian community. This was especially important as at that time Singapore was strongly divided along communal lines.17 Today, the Eurasian Association continues to take care of the welfare of the Eurasians. It also acts as a platform to enrich the cohesiveness of the Eurasian community as well as to integrate the community into Singapore’s multicultural society.18

Cultural practices
Eurasian cultural practices are usually a mix of both European and Asian traditions. The European influence is apparent in religion, language and sports. Indeed, most Eurasians are Christians and they observe festivals such as Easter, Lent and Christmas, while others follow Catholic traditions such as baptism and confirmation.19

As the majority of Eurasians in Singapore have Portuguese-Malaccan ancestry, there is still a strong Portuguese influence in local Eurasian culture. A Portuguese-based Creole language known as Kristang used to be the lingua franca of the Eurasians in Malacca and other Portuguese trading settlements. Kristang shares many similarities with Portuguese in terms of lexicon and pronunciation but its grammar is strongly Malay.20 A number of older Eurasians still speak the language today. In addition, Portuguese style dance and music are regarded as part of traditional Eurasian culture.21

When the Eurasians came to Singapore, many of them became anglicised and identified more with the British than their Portuguese ancestors. They adopted English as their first language, learned to play British sports such as cricket and hockey, and incorporated other Anglo practices into their culture.22

The mixed cultural heritage of the Eurasian community is also reflected in the cuisine. For instance, a popular Eurasian dish called Devil’s Curry is a meat stew that is prepared using local seasoning and spices such as curry leaves, lemon grass and curry powder. Sugee cake, another popular Eurasian dish, is made from semolina (sugee) and almonds. It is often served at Eurasian celebrations, especially weddings.23

Personalities

Although a small community, many Eurasians have contributed to the growth and development of Singapore, especially in politics and government.


During the colonial period, Eurasian leader Edwin Tessensohn served as the Municipal Commissioner in 1915 and was the first Eurasian nominated to the Legislative Council.24

Surgeon Charles J. P. Paglar was a prominent leader of the Eurasian community, especially during the Japanese Occupation. However, his cooperation with the Japanese during the occupation was seen by some as a sign of disloyalty and he was charged with treason after the war. Paglar was not convicted of the charge and continued to serve his community and the public after the war.

Sir George E. N. Oehlers made significant contributions in the Municipal and City councils, and served as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly from 1955 to 1963.

Other Eurasians who were prominent in the political arena include Kenneth M. Byrne, E. W. Barker and Benjamin Sheares. Byrne was a member of the first People’s Action Party (PAP) cabinet as labour and law minister, but left politics in the 1960s. He continued to serve the government in various capacities, including as High Commissioner to various countries. Entering politics in 1963, Barker served as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and Minister for Law. Sheares was the first Eurasian to become President of Singapore when he was appointed to the position in 1971. He held this office until his death in 1981.

In more recent times, Eurasian representation in parliament came from Eunice Olsen (Nominated Member of Parliament from 2004 to 2009), Michael Palmer (PAP Member of Parliament from 2006 to 2012) and Christopher De Souza (PAP Member of Parliament since 2006).

After Singapore’s independence, many Eurasians occupied senior positions in the government. These civil servants included former heads of the civil service Stanley T. Stewart and George E. Bogaars, and the first Asian Commissioner of Police, John Le Cain. Other notable Eurasians in public service included former diplomat Maurice Baker and former Director of the National Library of Singapore, Hedwig E. Anuar.

Besides politics and government, Eurasians have also made their mark in the artistic and cultural domains. Jeremy Monteiro is a renowned jazz musician and Cultural Medallion winner. Brian and Mark Richmond, Vernetta Lopez and Jean Danker are well-known radio personalities. Rex Shelly was an award-winning writer known for his books that centred on the Eurasian community in Singapore and Malaysia.

Places
During the colonial period, the Eurasians lived in enclaves. Living in close quarters allowed the community to form close ties and develop a group identity. The earliest Eurasian enclave was in the Waterloo Street area bounded by Bras Basah Road and Middle Road. Another Eurasian enclave was situated close by at Selegie Road.25


As the urbanisation of Singapore progressed, Eurasian families moved out from the enclaves to other locations such as the government quarters in Bukit Timah, the countryside areas in Serangoon and Upper Serangoon, and the coastal region of Tanjong Katong. There were even kampongs (Malay for “villages”) along Haig Road and Siglap Road that had a concentration of Eurasian families. Another Eurasian enclave known as Little England was located in the area bounded by Farrer Park, Norfolk Road and Rangoon Road. The roads in the area were all named after English counties and towns.26



Author
Stephanie Ho




References
1. Braga-Blake, M. and Ebert-Oehlers, A. (1992). Where the twain met. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)

2. Braga-Blake, M. and Ebert-Oehlers, A. (1992). Where the twain met. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, pp. 28–30. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
3. Carlos, A. H. (1921). The Eurasians of Singapore. In W. Makepeace, et al. (Eds.), One hundred years of Singapore. (Vol. 1). London: John Murray, p. 363. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.51 MAK -[RFL] MFM: NL6542); Ronald Daus cites the name as “Tomas Ferrao”. See Daus, R. (1989). Portuguese Eurasian communities in Southeast Asia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 305.869059 DAU)
4. Carlos, A. H. (1921). The Eurasians of Singapore. In W. Makepeace, et al. (Eds.), One hundred years of Singapore. (Vol. 1). London: John Murray, p. 363. Call no.: RCLOS 959.51 MAK -[RFL] MFM: NL6542)
5. Braga-Blake, M. (1992). Eurasians in Singapore: An overview. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, p.13. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
6. Daus, R. (1989). Portuguese Eurasian communities in Southeast Asia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 68. (Call no.: RSING 305.869059 DAU)
7. The Eurasian Association, Singapore. (2012). Eurasians in Singapore. Retrieved from The Eurasian Association, Singapore website: http://www.eurasians.org.sg/about/eurasians-in-singapore/
8. Braga-Blake, M. (1992). Eurasians in Singapore: An overview. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
9. Chen, R. (Jan-Mar 2012). A world of Eurasians. The New Eurasian, p. 12. Retrieved from The Eurasian Association, Singapore website: http://www.eurasians.org.sg/media/neweurasian/new-eurasian-jan-march-2012/
10. Shetty, D. (2012, January 20). Delve into Portuguese past. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
11. Braga-Blake, M. (1992). Eurasians in Singapore: An overview. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, pp. 14–15. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
12. Braga-Blake, M. (1992). Eurasians in Singapore: An overview. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
13. Barth, V. (1992). Belonging: Eurasian clubs and associations. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, p. 97. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
14. Barth, V. (1992). Belonging: Eurasian clubs and associations. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, pp. 98–99. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
15. Barth, V. (1992). Belonging: Eurasian clubs and associations. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
16. Barth, V. (1992). Belonging: Eurasian clubs and associations. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, p. 105. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
17. Barth, V. (1992). Belonging: Eurasian clubs and associations. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, p. 100. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
18. The Eurasian Association, Singapore. (2012). Mission & objectives. Retrieved from The Eurasian Association, Singapore website: http://www.eurasians.org.sg/about-us/missions-objectives/
19. Braga-Blake, M. (1992). Eurasians in Singapore: An overview. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
20. Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lived in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, p. 128. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)
21. Eurasian heritage day: A fiesta of sight, sound and taste. (1991). Singapore: The Association, pp. 18–19. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 EUR)
22. Byrne, J. (2011). The Luso-Asians and other Eurasians: Their domestic and diasporic identities. In L. Jarnagin (Ed.), The making of the Luso-Asian world: Intricacies of engagement. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 141. (Call no.: RSING 305.869105 POR)
23. Pereira, Q. (2012). Eurasian heritage cooking. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Cuisine, p. 166. (Call no.: SING 641.595957 PER)
24. Cardoza, F. & Cardoza, J. (1992) They made their mark: Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s history. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, p. 81. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
25. Clarke, L. (1992). Within a stone’s throw: Eurasian enclaves. In M. Braga-Blake (Ed.), Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: The Eurasian Association, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
26. Pereira, Q. (2012). Eurasian heritage cooking. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Cuisine, p. 16. (Call no.: SING 641.595957 PER)




Further resources
Scully, V., & Zuzarte, C. (2004). The most comprehensive Eurasian heritage dictionary. Singapore: SNP Reference.

(Call no.: RSING 306.0890403 SCU)

Pereira, A. A. (2006). No longer “other”: The emergence of the Eurasian community in Singapore. In K. F. Lian (Ed.), Race, ethnicity and the state in Malaysia and Singapore. Leiden: Brill.

(Call no.: RSING 305.8009595 RAC)



The information in this article is valid as at 25 July 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Clans--Singapore
Ethnic groups
Social groups
Eurasians

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