A book on archaeology has won the 2021 singapore prize, securing its author the biggest cash reward of any local literary award. The prize, announced by the organisers of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, comes with an cash sum of $25,000 and a trophy. The book, titled Leluhur: Singapore Kampong Gelam, was written by Ms Hidayah Ismail, who spent five years putting the book together. The author said the prize was an affirmation that ordinary people have significant and valuable histories to tell.
The prize, first mooted in a 2014 column by NUS Asia Research Institute distinguished fellow Kishore Mahbubani, recognises publications that make a substantial contribution to Singapore’s history and culture. The panel which awarded the prize this year comprised novelist Meira Chand, historian Peter Coclanis, economist Lam San Ling and archaeologist John Miksic from NUS Department of Southeast Asian Studies.
Miksic’s work has prompted “fundamental reinterpretation” of Singapore’s history, especially in terms of its location and its place within Southeast Asia. He added that the prize was a recognition of the importance of history in shaping Singapore’s identity, culture and development.
He pointed out that a number of the Singaporean values celebrated today – including secularism, religious harmony, meritocracy and pragmatism – have their roots in the country’s history. “The more we understand our own narrative, the clearer will be our sense of identity and the purpose of our existence,” he added.
This year’s panel also noted that “a common thread” that runs through the winning entries was how all of them evoked the sense of a shared past. “The common thread is the sense that all of these are our legacy, and in some way, they are the foundations on which we build our future.”
There was a one-in-eleven chance of winning a prize at the draw, which was held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Tickets were available at all Singapore Pools outlets and cost $1 each. The game was launched by Singapore Pools in 1969 to raise funds for the construction of the nation’s first National Stadium, with proceeds from the sale of tickets contributing to the total construction cost over a period of a few years.
The winner was announced at a ceremony at the National Museum of Singapore, attended by a crowd of over 3,000. It was the largest turnout for a singapore prize event to date. The prize was established in memory of Christopher Bathurst KC, a member of Fountain Court Chambers who built up a substantial practice in Singapore and the region. He was described as a “much-loved and admired friend and colleague” and an “outstanding practitioner”.