Why the Legend of Pulau Ubin may be wrong
The Legend of Pulau Ubin tells us of three animals: an elephant, a frog and a pig.
Current mainstream narrations tell us of how these animals challenged one another to see who could swim to Johor the fastest — and raising the stakes that whoever failed would be turned into stone.
The story ends with none of the animals making it; where the frog drowned and resurfaced as a boulder in its shape on Pulau Sekudu, and Pulau Ubin growing out from the resurfaced elephant and pig (Seow & Chan, 2019).
Most sources could be traced back to an article from Pulau Ubin Stories (2004), which claims that Pulau Ubin was "originally two halves, bisected by [the] Jelutong River", only to be joined together after farmers made mud bunds across the river to rear prawns when prawn farming was a thriving trade on the island.
Prawn farms, however, were only introduced by the Chinese community in Pulau Ubin as recent as the late 1950s (Leong, 2020; Roots, 2020). So, was Pulau Ubin really two separate islands just 70 years ago?
Testament to the depiction of the historical map above, the Malays — whose forefathers have inhabited Pulau Ubin since the 16th century — believed that their island had always been whole.
However, they agree that the legend involving the elephant, frog and pig was instead actually referring to three individual rock formations along the south-eastern coast of Pulau Ubin.
An oral history dated 9 January 1988 by the penghulu or headman of Ubin's Malay Kampung, Abdul Latiff bin Ahmad — fondly known as Tok Busu Latip — tells us that instead of swimming towards Johor, these three animals were challenging each other to Pulau Ubin (Urban Explorers of Singapore, 2020). As passed down from his grandfather, Tok Busu Latip shared that whichever animal failed to reach the shores of Pulau Ubin at the strike of noon, would be cursed into stone.
This narrative is consistent to the conditions set, as all three animals were equally turned into stone, an act which is also a common element found in folklore within the Nusantara (Malay Archipelago).
As Urban Explorers of Singapore concluded aptly, "a comparison of the older and modern versions of the story shows us how tales can become garbled in the retelling, reminding us of how important it is to keep exploring instead of always taking what we hear for granted".
Let's reclaim the original narrative behind the Legend of Pulau Ubin, by sharing the story that has been passed down for many generations by the indigenous people of the island;
a story that teaches us the invaluable lesson on the importance of staying humble, and the harmful consequences that come from one's ego and arrogance.
Leong, K.P. (2020, January 2). Once upon the prawn ponds. Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?vanity=kpleong&set=a.10157429121127605
Maps on display at the National Museum of Singapore I. (2016, May 15). History Delocalized. Retrieved from http://historydelocalized.blogspot.com/2016/05/maps-on-display-at-national-museum-of.html
Pulau Ubin Stories (2004, June 10). Pulau Ubin Stories. Retrieved from http://pulauubinstories.blogspot.com/2004/06/legend-of-ubin.html
Roots. (2020). Ah Ma Drink Stall. Retrieved from https://www.roots.gov.sg/places/places-landing/Places/landmarks/pulau-ubin-heritage-trail/ah-ma-drink-stall
Seow, P.N. & Chan, A. (2019, February), Pulau Ubin | Infopedia. Singapore Infopedia. Retrieved from https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_219_2004-12-13.html
Urban Explorers of Singapore. (2020, December 5). The Origins of The Pulau Ubin Legend. Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/urban.explorers.of.singapore/posts/3508561155859757
Azman bin Hamid
Pak Saleh Tony O' Dempsey
This post was originally posted on WUJ's Instagram page on December 22nd, 2021.