Pulau Ubin was first inhabited by the Orang Laut and Malays of Bugis and Javanese descent in the 16th to 17th century. A look at the history of the Orang Laut and the significant role they played during the time of the Malay kingdoms could explain how.
The Orang Laut were renowned for their maritime knowledge and were seen as crucial by Malay rulers for the protection of their kingdoms and the surrounding waters. They were also known for their devout loyalty to the Srivijayan royal bloodline; functioning as a naval force for the reigning rulers.
The inhabitant Orang Laut of Temasek pledged their allegiance to the Srivijayan prince of Palembang Sang Nila Utama after the founding of Singapura in 1299. The island kingdom would thrive for five generations under his lineage, only to end abruptly during the reign of Parameswara following a naval invasion by the Majapahit Empire in 1398.
When Singapura fell to the Majapahit, Parameswara and his Orang Laut fled north into the Malay Peninsula and eventually founded the new Sultanate of Melaka in 1400. However, the sultanate fell to the Portuguese just a century later in 1511 during the reign of Sultan Mahmud Shah, forcing the Melakan ruler to flee with his Orang Laut to Pahang and then to Bintan.
His progeny, Allaudin Riayat Shah II, would later establish the Johor Sultanate in 1528. However, the sultanate remained susceptible to sieges by the Portuguese which prompted the Johor ruler to move his capital and build forts along the lengths of Sungei Johor. In 1540, he moved his capital to Johor Lama, which was located downstream closer to the river's estuary and established a new port there.
As Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong Besar sits by the mouth of Sungei Johor, it is highly likely that a small population of the Orang Laut began settling on these islands to safeguard the entryway into the new port and capital of the Johor Sultanate.
The Orang Laut would continue to serve the reigning rulers loyally, until the Johor Regicide in 1699 when the last of the Srivijayan bloodline, Sultan Mahmud II, was assassinated. Leaderless, the Orang Laut became fragmented and returned to their nomadic lifestyle, while some assimilated with the other ethnic Malays.
Shortly after the British colonisation of Singapore, the population of inhabitants on Pulau Ubin grew gradually in the 1840s as quarries were mined to extract the island's granite. It eventually peaked in the mid-19th century to over 2,000 inhabitants comprising of Chinese and Malays.
Today, only 20 over residents remain.