‘We need something of our own’

Emily Stokes-Rees
University of Oxford, UK

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Ingår i: National museums in a global world. NaMu III; Department of culture studies and oriental languages; University of Oslo; Norway; 19-21 November 2007

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 31:2, s. 21-37

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Publicerad: 2008-07-16


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


Everywhere in Southeast Asia; the evidence of cultural diversity is overwhelming. Like many postcolonial states; Singapore encompasses a large number of disparate groups with different languages; religions and lifestyles. Over the past couple decades; government policies have attempted to portray Singapore as a ‘community of communities’; a nation of discrete heritages; united by their co-existence in the same geographical location; but made unique by the presence of an ‘indigenous’ Peranakan culture.

The focal point for this paper is the new national museum of Singapore which; interestingly; comprises a network of new museums representing the various cultural minorities that make up the Singaporean population (the Singapore History Museum and the two new wings of the Asian Civilizations Museum). In particular; I wish to explore the reasons why; and the processes through which a cultural phenomenon (in this case the culture of the Peranakans) becomes defined as ‘national heritage’ by the state. Relatedly; I will also consider how different definitions of heritage are interpreted by Singaporeans and how constructions of a multi-ethnic heritage may co-exist in harmony with the state’s hegemonic aims. To do so; I will focus first on the Singaporean museums’ attempt to invent a Peranakan heritage and appropriate a sense of ‘indigenousness’ in the project of nation building; and secondly on a recent exhibition on marriage which; I believe; attempts to put forward a Singaporean identity based on the portrayal of the nation as a multi-ethnic ‘community of communities’.


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