Singapore has a wonderful melange of different cultures and traditions created by the various different ethnic groups that moved to Singapore over the course of its history. The main groups are Malay, Chinese, and Indian, and there are also some strong British influences within Singaporean culture, a remnant from the times of British colonisation. There are large expat communities within Singapore as well, and you may notice, in particular, Australian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Dutch influences too.
It is for good reason that Singapore is often said to be a place where East meets West!
Singaporeans from all groups are incredibly proud of their mixed culture and heritage, seeing all cultures as being part of the overall makeup of the country rather than being one and the same. It is a true meritocracy, where all people’s achievements are based on merit, rather than ethnicity and cultural identity. Even the country’s name goes some way to reflect national pride – it means the City of the Lion!
Here’s an overview of some cultural aspects of Singapore:
Many different languages are spoken in Singapore, although the first language of the country is English. The majority of Singaporeans can speak at least two languages, with many people speaking even more! Other common languages within the population include Mandarin Chinese, Tamil, and Malay. There is also a colloquial form of English, known as Singlish. The official languages of Singapore are Bahasa Melayu, which is the national language, English, which is the primary language, Mandarin, and Tamil.
Many different religions are followed in Singapore. Indeed, it is one of the most religiously diverse countries on the planet! Respect and tolerance largely exists between religious groups, with some of the major religions including Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. There are some people that follow more than one belief system, and others that do not ascribe to any religious views. Many religious holidays are public holidays in the country.
There are numerous places of worship dedicated to the various faiths all around the country, with some of the most prominent being Jamae Mosque, Sri Mariamman Temple, and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It is possible to find areas where places of worship are located really close to each other, providing a terrific visual image of coexistence.
When visiting the different places of worship as a tourist, make sure that you follow the different rules of entry, for example removing footwear where appropriate and wearing conservative dress.
National Day, Labour Day, and New Year’s Day are secular holidays in Singapore. The other public holidays have religious or ethnic links. They are Chinese New Year, Buddhist Vesak Day, Christian Christmas and Good Friday, Muslim Eids, called Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji within Singapore, and Hindu Diwali, called by its Tamil name of Deepavali. There are many other cultural celebrations all throughout the year.
Singapore’s multiculturalism is really reflected in the many delicious dishes available. As well as cuisine that is particular to one different group you will also find fusions and adaptations. For example, you may find traditional Chinese dishes that have introduced Malay ingredients, and Indian cuisine that has been prepared so as to be suitable for people who eat Halal.
Singapore is a fascinating country for visitors who are interested in learning more about different cultures. Make sure that you visit Chinatown, Little India, and Kampong Glam in particular.