Singapore’s rich heritage can be difficult for newcomers to piece together, and sometimes requires breaking down the culture into its individual parts. To help with this, several heritage museums have been set up in Singapore to guide visitors into understanding the distinctive cultures of Singapore.
If you’re interested in participating in this journey through history, the Malay Heritage Centre is a definite stop on the list. As the name suggests, this museum is dedicated to the history of Malay Heritage in Singapore: everything from the original settlers and Sultans of the region’s past, to their modern day contributions to local literature and film.
History of the Building
Situated in the heart of Kampong Gelam, the building was once the Istana Kampong Glam, built in 1819 by Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor. Though it has changed hands and gone through several refurbishings throughout the 1900s, the building was last restored in 2005 and now serves as the Malay Heritage Centre, where it continues to house its permanent exhibit, a cycle of temporary exhibits and other cultural programmes to maintain remembrance of Singapore’s Malay history.
The General Experience
A comprehensive visit here should take about one to two hours, if you really delve into all the individual texts and nitty gritty details. You can expect to learn more about the history of Singapore, intrinsically tied to generations of Malay settlers, and significant Malay figures in history such as President Yusof Ishak, the first president of Singapore and the face of all our Singaporean bills.
Before entry into the building, you’ll need to obtain an entry ticket from the general office, which comes in the form of a sticker. The souvenir shop is also located here. Entry is free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, but SGD $8 for foreigners. However, you can purchase a ticket from our Native Marketplace at only SGD $6.50.
Common to many Malay households and holy places, you’ll need to remove your shoes before entering. If you aren’t comfortable walking around the building completely barefooted, make sure to bring a pair of comfortable socks.
Living and Working (Second Floor)
The permanent exhibit houses a collection of artifacts, informational displays and immersive environments that tell the general history of Malays in Singapore. Though not in any particular historical order, the exhibit separates itself into multiple sections that all express a piece of the Malay Culture.
The top floor, where you’ll begin your visit, is dedicated to the living and working lifestyle of Malays since the 1900s. You’ll find photo collections that collage the growth of the Malay Community alongside the industrialisation of Singapore and artifacts that speak to the Malay contributions during World War II and the independence of Singapore.
Another room, where the primary bedchambers of the royalty used to be, contains common but now ancient household items that facilitated the daily living of Malay communities.
One section details the intimate relationship the ancient Malay community had with rivers and the sea, presenting artifacts concerning trade, fishing and an impressive wall of traditional boats employed by both fishermen and traders. This room also contains heartfelt anecdotes of faithful muslims departing for the Hajj, a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.
There’s even a room that attempts to simulate an old town coffee shop environment using ambient lighting and coffee-smelling perfume.
Arts and Culture (First Floor)
The first floor, the second part of the permanent exhibit, is dedicated to the Malay contributions to film, music and literature in Singapore.
Malays were one of the strongest pioneers of the film industry in Singapore, translating many of their folktales and cultural stories to the big screen during the boom in the 1950s. IN the heritage museum, you’ll get to experience snippets of this Golden Age via a simulated theatre, playing a compilation of the more popular films made during this time. It’s an interesting look back into how film and acting has changed over the years.
Malay culture was also invested in its poignant thought and literature, with many Malay publications, newspapers and fictional novels coming out of the 20th century. Collections and printouts have been preserved at the museum for your viewing pleasure, giving a detailed insight into the contemporary thought of that time.
At the end of the permanent exhibit is a small children’s play area for kids to engage in some traditional Malay stories. Unfortunately, the space has been temporarily closed due to COVID, so there isn’t much to do here.
Urang Banjar Exhibit
Aside from the permanent exhibit, a temporary exhibit has been set up in the building attached to the main Istana House.
The Urang Banjar: Heritage and Culture of the Banjar in Singapore is the fifth instalment of a series of community co-curated exhibitions, expounding on the ethnic and cultural diversity within the Singaporean Malay community. The Urang Banjar are arguably the smallest group within the Singaporean Malay community, possessing a common ancestral language, material culture and distinct norms and practices.
Here, you’ll get to see a mixture of artifacts, recollections and anecdotes from the still-existing Banjarnese community in Singapore as they attempt to preserve their heritage. You’ll even find out more about the rush of the diamond trade among the Banjarese of Kalimantan.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID a number of the multimedia exhibits within the permanent galleries are currently disabled for safety reasons. However, most of the gallery texts are available via a scannable QR code in the main lobby, so you’re free to use your phone to get the full experience.
However, if you want a more in-depth experience you can participate in the free guided tours, available for both the Permanent Gallery and the Urang Banjar Gallery. Take note that guided tours are maximised at 8 pax per tour, as per COVID guidelines.
Urang Banjar: Heritage and Culture of the Banjar in Singapore Guided Tour Times
English: Every 2nd and 4th Saturday, 11AM.
Every Wednesday, 11AM.
Mandarin: Every 3rd Saturday, 11AM.
Permanent Galleries Guided Tour Times
English: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 11AM
Mandarin: Every 3rd Saturday, 1PM
There are multiple Heritage Galleries and Museums in Singapore, covering the multicultural nature which sits at the heart of Singapore’s spirit. If you’re planning to learn and understand more about Singaporean culture and her unique history, then this will undoubtedly be one of many stops along the way, an important one that speaks to the history of the original settlers; the people of the land.
However, if you’re planning a day out, you might want to consider the surrounding area as well. Kampong Glam is the Malay Cultural seat of Singapore, and there are many cuisine and shopping opportunities that might accompany a heritage day out perfectly.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10AM - 6PM
Closed on Mondays
Contact: 6391 0450