Stories > A Cultural Melange

2023 • Issue 1

A Cultural Melange

The Eurasian Heritage Gallery is living proof of the vast contributions of one of Singapore’s minority communities.





ounded by primly ordered terrace houses and leafy park grounds, The Eurasian Community House (inset) in Ceylon Road in eastern Singapore sits unruffled in its serene residential settings. Inside, a restaurant clatters with life as the weekend lunch chorus of clinking cutlery echoes throughout the cool fourstorey terracotta-roofed building.

Michael, the hoary caretaker who holds court over the centre’s entrance, warmly welcomes us with an introduction to the Eurasian Heritage Gallery occupying the upper floors. Officiated in 2019 by President Halimah Yacob, the space is divided into three heritage galleries that expound on the Eurasian community’s role in Singapore’s nation building — its fluid, multi-faceted culture and prominent past and present-day figures respectively.

Framing the antechamber are didactic labels clearly identifying these individuals’ antecedents as Portuguese traders who journeyed to Singapore and Malacca in search of spices in the 16th century, followed by the Dutch in the 17th century. This would explain the mural of blue-and-white-painted Portuguese azulejo tiles gleaming at the centre’s lobby, depicting the 15th-century port of Lisbon billowing with full-rigged vessels ready to sail.

Inter-marriages between such European settlers and locals gave rise to the Eurasians’ vibrant amalgamation of Eastern and Western traditions. And those idiosyncrasies are proudly displayed at the gallery dedicated to both tangible and intangible heritage. Apart from artefacts including wellburnished china and silverware, and the kebayainspired traditional baju panjang, videos and audio narratives offer crash courses on everything — from preparing a fiery curry debal (leftovers in Kristang, a creole language spoken by people of mixed Portuguese and Malay ancestry) to conversing in the sui generis Portuguese-Eurasian patois.

Historical provenance and cultural intricacies aside, the gallery also highlights the achievements of Singaporean Eurasians past and present.

There are the indomitable heroes who sacrificed their lives to defend the nation during World War II. And who can disregard the towering linchpin of the civil service, former president Benjamin Sheares? He bears testament to the quiet assiduousness of Eurasians in the public sector, many of whom served the British colonial government without plaudits or decorated positions. Segueing into a section resounding with modern-day luminaries, the exhibition features, among others, footage of swimmer Joseph Schooling, who won Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal in 2016, discussing what being Eurasian means to him.

Apart from a rich patrimony that encapsulates the island-state’s multicultural credo, the galleries trace an inclusive community that has flourished in lockstep with a nation of verve. This was apparent to Unggul Pramono, a Singapore Permanent Resident from Indonesia who recently visited the space.

“It was eye-opening to see how the Eurasians have folded different cultures into their own in a way that celebrates dualism and diversity. It is a great reflection of Singaporean values as I have come to know,” he says.

This May Also Interest You