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There are fewer Ubin Orang Pulau left.

On Saturday, 6th January, the Ubin Orang Pulau attended their first funeral for 2024 following the passing of Cik Mohamed Bin Siron — more affectionately known as Atan Leggong. Just last year, the Ubin Orang Pulau bade their final farewells to eight of their beloved friends, neighbours and family; in what appears to be the most deaths of Ubin Orang Pulau in recent years.

Since the start of the decade, nearly twenty Ubin Orang Pulau have passed away. May Allah (swt) bless their souls and grant them the highest level of Paradise. Ameen.


Mohamed (Atan Leggong) Bin Siron


Giman (Giman Tonggek)

Halimah Binti Ghani

Hj. Abdullah Bin Hj. Salleh

Hj. Musa Bin Sulong (Awang Minyak)

Kamisah (Peah) Binti Seman

Muhammad (Bujang) Bin Sulong

Rahman Bin Sawall

Rasman Shah Bin Sawall


Alisah Binti Hamid

Hjh. Yang Alijah Binti Pengaji

Senin Bin Hj. Abdullah


Aloyah (Kak Ngah) Binti Othman

Awang Bin Pengaji

Badrul Hisham Bin Sidek


Fauziah Binti Yusof

Hjh. Safiah Binti Taib

Rahman (Aman Desin) Bin Suraton

Sidek Bin Hj. Arsyad

(The list is non-exhaustive as there could be Ubin Orang Pulau whose deaths were not informed to me)

"Dah makin kurang dah orang pulau kita"

This phrase uttered by the community — "there are fewer of us left" — after every funeral holds a lot of weight as it reflects the grim reality on the fate of the Ubin Orang Pulau. With each Ubin Orang Pulau who has passed on, the rich vaults of indigenous knowledge, skills, and stories of Pulau Ubin — that unless were passed on to their next-of-kin — would be buried together with them. But for those who were fortunate enough to learn these indigenous knowledge from our forefathers before they have left us, keeping them alive today remains an uphill challenge.

To keep up with Singapore's violent rate of urbanisation over the past five decades, various policies and prohibitions were imposed to maintain Singapore's appeal as a sparkling clean metropolis; in a narrative which seems to actively steer Singapore away from its history and inalienable identity as a nation of islands. With Singapore's ever-evolving land- (and sea-) scape due to reclamation and redevelopment projects, the number of places where people are permitted to fish and forage have dwindled significantly over the past five decades. Yet, for the limited green and blue spaces that we have left, it has become commonplace for us to stumble across a "No Fishing", "No Casting of Nets", or "No Catching of Marine Creatures" signs along our coastlines, rivers, and even longkangs.

Closer to home on Pulau Ubin, Sungei Durian — the river that brought about the namesake of Singapore's last surviving Orang Pulau kampung — has been fenced up and made inaccessible to the Ubin Orang Pulau for about two years now. This is in preparation for the development of the OCBC Mangrove Park slated for completion in 2026. It remains uncertain if the Ubin Orang Pulau could return to Sungei Durian to fish and forage again, because as history painfully reminds us through the gazetting of Chek Jawa and Pulau Sekodok into nature reserves, the Ubin Orang Pulau would have to say goodbye to yet another important place of sustenance for them in their own backyards.

The Ubin Orang Pulau are sometimes painfully reminded of the disparity of how natural heritage is often always prioritised over cultural heritage on their island home. As what my interactions with the Ubin Orang Pulau over the past five years — those still around or whom have since passed on — have taught me: natural and cultural heritage are inseparable. We depend on nature to provide for us, and to a certain extent, nature depend on us to provide for her to maintain the balance in the ecosystem. Today, we could witness just some of the repercussions of such neglect in Kampung Sungei Durian.

The lack of buffer zones between the forests and the kampung have led to heightened incidents of human-wildlife conflict. For example, macaques — which population was once kept under control by the Ubin Orang Pulau and were afraid to come close to people because of their measures — could now brazenly encroach into the houses; stealing food, disrupting lives and pose a potential safety threat to the Ubin Orang Pulau. Additionally, many more houses in the Malay kampung have fallen into severe disrepair as plans for some of their restoration have yet to materialise after years. The Ubin Orang Pulau's morale of seeing through the completion of their ancestral houses diminishes with each passing year of inaction, and with each passing of their family members.

The fewer Ubin Orang Pulau left, the quieter our voices become.

Yes, we can learn these indigenous knowledge so that their stories continue to live with us, but what good is knowledge if you can merely learn it, but not live it? I can learn how to build a kampung house, but what good is there if I cannot build one anymore. I can learn how to forage for intertidal creatures, but what good is there if it's been made illegal? I worry for the day when it is not that there are fewer Ubin Orang Pulau left, but when there are no more of us around.

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