by Khor, Kok Kheng
Pulau Biola is a tiny islet located at the southern extremities of Singapore’s southern islands.1 The islet is known for its rich biodiversity of coral reefs and marine life, which are relatively unspoilt compared with elsewhere in Singapore.2
The island is also home to plants that are considered critically endangered locally: Pelir musang (Fagraea auriculata), a rare plant found only in two other places in Singapore – Lazarus Island and Pulau Tekukor; purslane (Portulaca pilosa), which is found on sandy and rocky beaches; and the mangrove plant, Mentigi (Pemphis acidula).3
Spanning a land area of 0.4 ha (4,000 sq m), Pulau Biola is sandwiched between Pulau Senang to the north and Pulau Satumu, on which Raffles Lighthouse is built, to the south.4 Along with nine other offshore islands, Pulau Biola is administered by the Sentosa Development Corporation on behalf of the Singapore government.5 The islet is also part of the New Southern Islands Live Firing Area declared in 1982.6
Coral reef diving spot
Pulau Biola is reputed as a premier dive spot with its abundant coral reefs and marine life.7 Coral reefs and marine life around the islet have been described as the “most untouched in Singapore waters”.8
In Malay, pulau means an “island” or a “piece of rising ground in a sea”, while the Malay word biola is of Portuguese origin and means “violin”.9 Pulau Biola is also known by its English name, Rabbit Island.10 A 1936 newspaper article mentioned that the moniker was given by early English navigators to the area at the time.11
Contrary to its seeming insignificance, Pulau Biola must have been regarded as an important navigational feature in days before Singapore was colonised by the British, as it was marked in a 1755 navigation map by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, a French royal cartographer.12 The word biola probably refers to the shape of the island, because Bellin had depicted it in the shape of a violin, or perhaps more of a lute, complete with two pegs protruding at one end and a rounded soundboard at the other.13 The highlight of this map, to present-day historians, is the reference to Singapore as Pulo or Isle Panjang (Long Island).14 Labelled as Isle la Viole, Pulau Biola appears as a speck just above Detroit du Gouverneur (Governor's Strait). Its location on the map at the southern tip of the southern islands of Singapore approximates its present location.15
Khor Kok Kheng
1. Singapore. Survey Department. (1957). Street directory and guide to Singapore with sectional maps. Singapore: Survey Department. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN-[RFL])
2. Chew, L. (1980, November 15). Divorced… from nature. The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. (2016). Pulau Biola. Retrieved 2016, October 3 from The DNA of Singapore website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/places/details/44
4. Singapore street directory. (1998–1999). (19th ed.). Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SSD); Singapore facts and pictures. (2002). Singapore: Ministry of Culture, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SMCFFS)
5. Sentosa Development Corporation. (1993/94). Sentosa annual report. Singapore: The Corporation, p. 30. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957092 SDCAR-[AR]
6. Danger lurks where beauty lies. (1983, February 17). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Koh, N. (1981, December 3). Take the plunge with a camera. New Nation, pp. 12–13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Chew, L. (1980, November 15). Divorced… from nature. The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Wilkinson, R. J. (1952). An abridged Malay–English dictionary (romanised). London: Macmillan & Co Ltd, pp. 30, 189. (Call no.: RCLOS 499.230321 MAL-[RFL])
10. Singapore. Survey Department. (1957). Street directory and guide to Singapore with sectional maps. Singapore: Survey Department. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN-[RFL])
11. Anak Singapura. (1936 April 21). Notes of the day. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Bellin, J. N. (1755). Carte réduite des Détroits de Malaca, Sincapour, et du Gouverneur [Map]. Retrieved from BookSG; Borschberg, P. (2015). Singapura in early modern cartography: A sea of challenges. In Visualising space: Maps of Singapore and the region: Collections from the National Library and National Archives of Singapore (pp. 6–33). Singapore: National Library Board, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 911.5957 SIN)
13. Bellin, J. N. (1755). Carte réduite des Détroits de Malaca, Sincapour, et du Gouverneur [Map]. Retrieved from BookSG.
14. Sheppard, M. (Ed.). (1982). Singapore 150 years. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 142–143. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
15. Bellin, J. N. (1755). Carte réduite des Détroits de Malaca, Sincapour, et du Gouverneur [Map]. Retrieved from BookSG; Singapore. Survey Department. (1957). Street directory and guide to Singapore with sectional maps. Singapore: Survey Department. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN-[RFL])
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 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.