Throwback Thursday is a monthly snippet of Singapore’s rich cultural history. Let us know what you want to hear about next month in the comments!

The very etymology is a wonder. While commonly known as “Garden City” due to the lush greenery meticulously planted (and planned) throughout the island, there’s more behind the name ‘Singapore’.

According to legend, technically the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals; a genealogical work detailing the line of the Malay Sultanate, founded by Iskander Shah around 1390CE), a Sumatran prince descended from heaven had landed on the island circa 1344. After a treacherous journey at sea, young Sang Nila Utama had finally found an island to dock, and the first thing he saw was a ‘Singa’, Malay for ‘lion’.

“Singapura”, Nila Utama proclaimed, and with that, a new name for an island previously known as *Temasek was born.

In Sanskrit, ‘Simha’ means lion, while ‘pura’ means city, literally translating ‘Singapura’ as ‘Lion City’.

Sang Nila Utama was widely regarded as one of the founders of Singapore as recorded in the annals, and it is so valued and sacred that island has held true to its malay roots even till today; retaining the name Singapore, and establishing Malay as the national language.

Keep reading on though, because…

Lions never existed in Singapore.

Funnily enough, it is believed that the “lion” was actually a Malayan Tiger, which exists in neighbouring Malaysia, and is extinct in Singapore. The critically endangered species is found only on the Malay Peninsula and in the southern tip of Thailand.

The mighty Malayan tiger, every bit as fierce and magnificent as the other king of the jungle.

In fact, there’s still an ongoing debate on whether what Sang Nila Utama spotted was in fact a Malayan Tiger, or a tapir.

A herbivorous, pig-like animal. Did Sang Nila Utama really mistake this for a lion? Source: Animal Spot

Yet regardless of myth or legend that has aggrandized the name of Singapore, it bears to mention that Singapura has kept her name for centuries because of the utmost faith of its citizens and inhabitants in its story, its culture, and all its woven intricacies and significance.

It doesn’t matter if Sang Nila Utama was no celestial descendant, and was merely a refugee, a vagabond or a castaway.

The very fact that Singapura, both the name and our little nation, has withstood the test of time signifies the belief we and all our ancestors have had in our country’s progress.

And that takes the courage of a lion.

Or 6 million tapirs.

*While the origin of the name Temasek is uncertain, it has been proposed that it was derived from the Malay word tasik meaning “lake” or “sea”, and may mean here “place surrounded by the sea”, or Sea Town. Source: Wikipedia

Next month on Throwback Thursday: Is it a lion? Or is it a fish?

What could be behind the legend of the water-spewing creature?