Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Legend of Bukit Merah (or How Redhill got its name): Part 2

This is the story of how Redhill got its name. In Malay, Bukit = Hill; Merah = Red (see also Part 1 for the comic version):

The Legend of Bukit Merah (text by Ivy Lee)
A long time ago, the seas of Singapura was inhabited by many dangerous swordfish that attacked the villagers living by the sea. The king, Raja Paduka Sri Maharaja tried several methods to solve this problem, but to no avail.

A clever little boy saw what was happening and suggested the king to make a trap for the swordfish along the beach with soft banana tree trunks. So, the Raja sent his soldiers to cut down all the banana trees nearby and built a barrier along the beach. When it was high tide again, the swordfish swam up to the beach. However, instead of attacking villagers, the swordfish found their sharp noses stuck onto the banana tree trunks!

The little boy's plan had succeeded and the grateful villagers thanked the boy for saving their lives. The jealous Raja grew worried that the boy might grow up and take away his throne. So he plotted to kill the boy.

One night, he sent his soldiers to murder the boy who lived on top of a hill. As they marched up the hill, they met a mysterious old woman who discovered their plan. She chanted some magic words and deep red blood started to flow down the hill, causing the terrified soldiers to flee quickly.

The blood eventually caused the soil to turn red and the hill became today's Bukit Merah or Red Hill.

Apparently there are a few variations concerning the fate of the boy. The above version is a "sanitised" one because in the version I first read when I was younger, the boy was killed and his blood flowed down the hill making it red.

Seems there is no recorded version of the "Redhill" legend either, though the story of the attack by the swordfish was recorded in the Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals -- a 15th century official account of the Malay-Malaccan royal lineage. In David Brazil's "Insider's Singapore" (p. 65, 1999 edition), there's a sidebar that links the swordfish story to how Tanjong Pagar (somewhere downtown Singapore) -- or Cape of Stakes in Malay -- got its name.

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  1. Dr. Kevin Tan, President of the Singapore Heritage Society, informs me that the fish in question might have been Garfishes rather than Swordfishes. I think he's right. See: http://www.geocities.com/checkitoutsg/garfish.html

  2. I could actually remember reading this story when I was young! Good refresher!

  3. Anonymous4:36 pm

    Who is the mysterious old woman?

  4. Anonymous10:39 am

    Does this article have some truth in it?

  5. Hi Anonymous, this is a myth/ legend. And I suppose like all myths and legends, it may be based on events that happened but we can't really tell how much truth is there.

  6. Anonymous3:11 pm

    For me , i suppose the story of red hill with the small clever boy being killed is true for i heard that coming from even my grandparents


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