Black people have been in Singapore since the 1800s. It’s time we learn about their history.

A promotional image for Ayer Hitam: A Black History of Singapore. Photo: BlackNet Singapore
A promotional image for Ayer Hitam: A Black History of Singapore. Photo: BlackNet Singapore

When it comes to discussing Singapore’s history, conversations usually center around colonialists like Sir Stamford Raffles, the split from Malaysia, and, of course, the late Lee Kuan Yew’s charge to transform the Lion City. Very little is known about the small black community stitched into our social fabric since the 1800s.

Three theatre practitioners hope to enlighten Singaporeans through a performance-lecture titled Ayer Hitam: A Black History of Singapore on Sunday at the School of the Arts. Ayer Hitam, which translates to “black water,” refers to the African diaspora crossing the ocean to get to Singapore.

The 90-minute performance by Jamaican-British actress and Singapore resident Sharon Frese, director Irfan Kasban, and writer Ng Yi-Sheng; was first staged in January at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival at Black Box Theatre. 

Among things to look out for in the show is Frese sharing images and documents relating to slavery, colonialism, jazz, and the nationalist struggle.

In 1827, a colonial survey found five black residents living on the island – two men and three women. By 1834, the number rose to 62, organizers say.  

Several black boxing champions adored by Singaporeans included one known as Joe Diamond, a Mecca-born boxer who visited Singapore regularly between 1930 and 1945 to fight. He gained a big following in the local Malay community.   

Another well-known black Singaporean was Mak Pak Shee, a member of parliament representing the Geylang area in the 1950s of mixed ancestry. While it was said that he was Indian-Cantonese; in reality, his father was a sailor of African descent, organizers said.

Tickets to Ayer Hitam: A Black History of Singapore are S$41.99 and can be purchased online. Come early for refreshments and Afrobeat entertainment by DJs Rushmo, Justo and Roxie Le Fox.

FIND IT
Nov. 17
4pm – 9pm
School of the Arts

More arts and culture news from the Little Red Dot at Coconuts.co/Singapore/lifestyle.

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