Book on history of Kampong Gelam clinches NUS Singapore History Prize

Winning work challenges collective notions of Singapore Malay history and shines spotlight on Singapore’s cosmopolitan and dynamic economic, political and social history over the last two centuries

Entrepreneur and award-winning author Ms Hidayah Amin, whose work, Leluhur: Singapore’s Kampong Gelam (Helang Books, 2019), illuminates the history of one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas of Singapore, has been awarded the 2021 NUS Singapore History Prize. Ms Hidayah, who is also a NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences alumna, will receive a cash award of S$50,000.

Created in 2014 in support of the national SG50 programme to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, the NUS Singapore History Prize is awarded to an outstanding publication that has made a lasting impact on our understanding of the history of Singapore, and that is accessible to a wide audience of specialist and non-specialist readers.

A five-member Jury Panel chaired by Mr Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow at the NUS Asia Research Institute, unanimously selected Leluhur: Singapore’s Kampong Gelam, the work of Ms Hidayah Amin, as the winner of the 2021 NUS Singapore History Prize. Ms Hidayah’s work was among six which was shortlisted, out of 31 nominated works authored by local and international scholars. The other Jury Panel members are: novelist Dr Meira Chand; economist Dr Lam San Ling; historian Professor Peter Coclanis; and archaeologist Emeritus Professor John Miksic from the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

The five books that were shortlisted alongside the winning publication are:
• Kamaladevi Aravindan, Sembawang: A Novel (Marshall Cavendish, 2020);
• Timothy P Barnard, Imperial Creatures: Humans and Other Animals in Colonial Singapore, 1819-1942 (NUS Press, 2019);
• Kwa Chong Guan, Tan Tai Yong, Peter Borschberg, Derek Heng, Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore (Marshall Cavendish Edition and National Library Board, Singapore, 2019);
• Jeremy Tiang, State of Emergency (Epigram Books, 2017); and
• Wang Gungwu, Margaret Wang, Home is Where We Are (NUS Press, 2020).

Mr Mahbubani, Chair of the NUS Singapore History Prize Jury Panel, said: “When I grew up as a child in Singapore, I was taught that there was only a sleepy fishing village in Singapore before Raffles came. Hidayah’s book brilliantly throws new light on the rich Malay heritage of Singapore. It describes how Singapore was a key hub in the Malay world, even prior to Raffles’ arrival, and how Kampong Gelam became its crux. In a volume packed with fascinating photographs and rich anecdotes, Hidayah has made an important new contribution to our understanding of Singapore’s history. She fully deserves the NUS Singapore History Prize.”