Kusu Island



Kusu Island is located 5.6 km south-west of Singapore.1 A Chinese temple and three Malay keramat (shrine) on the island attract thousands of pilgrims annually, especially in the 9th lunar month that falls between September and October. Kusu means “tortoise” or “turtle” in the Hokkien dialect. The island is also known as Pulau Tambakul (or Tembakul), Goa Island or Peak Island.2

History
According to some historical accounts, the earliest mention of Kusu reef was during the 17th century when Dom Jose de Silva, Spanish Governor of the Philippines, was believed to have run aground at Kusu reef in March 1616. The island then became known as “Governor's Island”.3


In 1806, the island was renamed "Goa Island"  by James Horsburgh, a hydrographer at the British East India Company. Soon after Stamford Raffles arrived in Singapore in 1819, his hydrographer Daniel Ross selected the island as a reference point for ships entering the new port. In 1822, a signal station with a signal mast manned by the Harbour Master's Department was built on the island.4

Kusu Island was originally 1.2 ha, but landfill and reclamation in 1975 joined it with another coral outcrop, making it a 8.5 ha island resort.5 During the colonial era, the island served as the burial site for newly arrived immigrants who had died while in quarantine on St John's and Lazarus islands.6

Every year, on the 9th day of the 9th moon in the lunar calendar, a month-long festival stretching between September and November see more than 100,000 Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian pilgrims visit Kusu Island.7 The island houses a Chinese temple and three Malay keramat.8

According to the signboard located at the entrance of the Chinese temple, the temple was built in 1923 with donations from a wealthy businessman Chia Cheng Ho in honour of the Chinese deity Tua Pek Kong (or Da Bo Gong, which literally means “Grand Uncle”), the Merchant God or God of Prosperity. Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, is also prayed to at the temple.9

About 80 percent of the devotees are women, who mainly pray for prosperity, good husbands, healthy babies and obedient children.10 At least, five types of blessings are sought: longevity, wealth, tranquillity, love of virtue and a fulfilled destiny. Devotees also climb the 152 steps to reach the Malay shrines.11 One of the shrines is dedicated to Syed Abdul Rahman while the other two are believed to belong to his mother, Nenek Ghalib, and his sister, Puteri Fatimah Shariffah.12 Inscriptions at the shrines revealed that Nenek Ghalib had visited a Straits Chinese man, Hoe Beng Whatt, in his dreams in 1917, and requested for the shrines to be built. In return, she would grant the donors, success in their business.13

Legends
There are many legends surrounding the island, but they revolve mainly around the image of a giant turtle and of the friendship between two men, one Malay and the other Chinese.

Ferry services and amenities
Before ferry services to the island started in 1975, pilgrims had to travel in sampan and bumboats to reach the island. With the introduction of ferry services, pilgrims could take ferries from either Clifford Pier or the World Trade Centre to reach the island.18


Following the closure of Clifford Pier in 2006, all ferry services were relocated to Marina South Pier.19 Singapore Island Cruise is currently the only company providing ferry services to Kusu Island and St John's Island. However, there is no direct service to Kusu Island, as the ferry will head to St John's island first before going to Kusu Island. The entire journey from Marina South Pier to Kusu Island takes about 45 minutes: 30 minutes to St John's island, and thereafter another 15 minutes to Kusu Island.20

Kusu Island is today a tourist attraction with its pristine beaches, lagoons, picnic tables and barbecue pits. However, camping overnight is not permitted on the island.21

Variant names
Malay name: Pulau Tambakul (or Tembakul) after a type of fish.22
Other names: Goa Island; Peak Island.
Chinese name: Guiyu Dao (龟屿岛) in Mandarin.23



Author

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama



References
1. Turtle Island. (2002, October 4). The New Paper, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Lu, C. (2012, Spring). The Kusu pilgrimage: An enduring myth. The Newsletter, 59, pp. 50–51. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from International Institute for Asian Studies website: http://iias.asia/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL59_4748495051.pdf; Chia, J. M. (2009, December). Managing the Tortoise Island: Tua Pek Kong temple, pilgrimage, and social change in Pulau Kusu, 1965–2007. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 11(2), 72–95, p. 77. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from The New Zealand Asian Studies Society website: http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-Dec09/jas_dec2009_chia.pdf
3. Chia, J. M. (2009, December). Managing the Tortoise Island: Tua Pek Kong temple, pilgrimage, and social change in Pulau Kusu, 1965–2007. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 11(2), 72–95, p. 77–78. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from The New Zealand Asian Studies Society website: http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-Dec09/jas_dec2009_chia.pdf
4. Chia, J. M. (2009, December 2). Managing the Tortoise Island: Tua Pek Kong temple, pilgrimage, and social change in Pulau Kusu, 1965–2007. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 11(2), 72–95, p. 78. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from The New Zealand Asian Studies Society website: http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-Dec09/jas_dec2009_chia.pdf
5. Low, A. (1986, October 5). Kusu: From rocky outcrop to holiday resort. The Straits Times, p. 3; Kusu gets a new look. (1977, April 14). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Chia, J. M. (2009, December 2). Managing the Tortoise Island: Tua Pek Kong temple, pilgrimage, and social change in Pulau Kusu, 1965–2007. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 11(2), 72–95, p. 77. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from New Zealand Asian Studies Society website: http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-Dec09/jas_dec2009_chia.pdf
7. Dowsett, F. (1971, November 13). Discovering Singapore. New Nation, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 481. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
8. Chia, J. M. (2009, December 2). Managing the Tortoise Island: Tua Pek Kong temple, pilgrimage, and social change in Pulau Kusu, 1965–2007. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 11(2), 72–95, p. 77. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from New Zealand Asian Studies Society website: http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-Dec09/jas_dec2009_chia.pdf
9. Chew, S. K. (1994, October 29). Paying homage on Kusu. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chia, J. M. (2009, December 2). Managing the Tortoise Island: Tua Pek Kong temple, pilgrimage, and social change in Pulau Kusu, 1965–2007. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 11(2), 72–95, p. 80. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from New Zealand Asian Studies Society website: http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-Dec09/jas_dec2009_chia.pdf; Lu, C. (2012, Spring). The Kusu pilgrimage: An enduring myth. The Newsletter, 59, p. 50. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from International Institute for Asian Studies website: http://iias.asia/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL59_4748495051.pdf
10. Dowsett, F. (1971, November 13). Discovering Singapore. New Nation, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Lu, C. (2012, Spring). The Kusu pilgrimage: An enduring myth. The Newsletter, 59, p. 50. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from International Institute for Asian Studies website: http://iias.asia/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL59_4748495051.pdf; 200,000 devotees for annual Kusu pilgrimage. (1996, October 12). The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Chia, J. M. (2009, December 2). Managing the Tortoise Island: Tua Pek Kong temple, pilgrimage, and social change in Pulau Kusu, 1965–2007. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 11(2), 72–95, p. 77. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from New Zealand Asian Studies Society website: http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-Dec09/jas_dec2009_chia.pdf; Tan, C. (1983, October 6). Annual pilgrimage to Kusu starts today. The Straits Times, p. 9; Dowsett, F. (1971, November 13). Discovering Singapore: Kusu – The symbol of racial harmony. New Nation, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lu, C. (2012, Spring). The Kusu pilgrimage: An enduring myth. The Newsletter, 59, pp. 50–51. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from International Institute for Asian Studies website: http://iias.asia/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL59_4748495051.pdf
13. Lu, C. (2012, Spring). The Kusu pilgrimage: An enduring myth. The Newsletter, 59, p. 50. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from International Institute for Asian Studies website: http://iias.asia/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL59_4748495051.pdf
14. Dowsett, F. (1971, November 13). Discovering Singapore: Kusu. New Nation, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Lu, C. (2012, Spring). The Kusu pilgrimage: An enduring myth. The Newsletter. 59, p. 50. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from International Institute for Asian Studies website: http://iias.asia/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL59_4748495051.pdf
16. Dowsett, F. (1971, November 13).  Discovering Singapore. New Nation, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Lu, C. (2012, Spring). The Kusu pilgrimage: An enduring myth. The Newsletter, 59, p. 50. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from International Institute for Asian Studies website: http://iias.asia/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL59_4748495051.pdf
18. Low, A. (1986, October 5). Kusu: From rocky outcrop to holiday resort. The Straits Times, p. 3; Ong, P. (1980, June 5). Islands in the sun. New Nation, pp. 10–11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chia, J. M. (2009, December 2). Managing the Tortoise Island: Tua Pek Kong temple, pilgrimage, and social change in Pulau Kusu, 1965–2007. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 11(2), 72–95, p. 84. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from New Zealand Asian Studies Society website: http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-Dec09/jas_dec2009_chia.pdf
19. One last look at Clifford Pier. (2006, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Singapore Island Cruise. (2014). About us. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from Singapore Island Cruise website: http://www.islandcruise.com.sg/about_us.html; Singapore Island Cruise. (2014). Departure from Kusu Island to Marina South Pier. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from Singapore Island Cruise website: http://www.islandcruise.com.sg/ferry_schedule.html#t3
21. Singapore Tourism Promotion Board. (2016). Kusu Island. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from YourSingapore website:  http://www.yoursingapore.com/see-do-singapore/nature-wildlife/singapore-islands/kusu-island.html
22. Sit, Y. F. (1948, October 24). Two faiths share holy island. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Chia, J. M. (2009, December 2). Managing the Tortoise Island: Tua Pek Kong temple, pilgrimage, and social change in Pulau Kusu, 1965–2007. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 11(2), 72–95, p. 72. Retrieved 2016, September 10 from New Zealand Asian Studies Society website: http://www.nzasia.org.nz/downloads/NZJAS-Dec09/jas_dec2009_chia.pdf



The information in this article is valid as at 10 September 2016 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
Religious buildings
Streets and Places
People and communities>>Customs>>Folklore
People and communities>>Customs>>Festivities
Singapore offshore islands
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Religious Buildings
Islands--Singapore
Geography>>Geographical Areas and Countries>>Singapore Offshore Islands
Quarantine--Singapore