One of the three winning dance teams from Katong Convent performed a fusion dance.
Hungry? Walk into any food court or hawker centre and more likely than not, you’ll have a wide variety of food readily available - Chinese, Malay, Indian or even international cuisine - thanks to the presence of the different races in our country.
Being multi-racial has no doubt brought a whole slew of gastronomic delights, much to the glee of our food-loving nation, and being multi-religious has seen us experience a myriad of fascinating festivals and celebrations (and more public holidays!). However, these ingredients that have made our country more interesting and colourful could also be the very ingredients for a destructive brew.
In 1964, two riots broke out in Singapore between the Chinese and Malay communities. The July and September riots lasted five days on each occasion and these were the worst and most prolonged riots in our post-war history, with 36 people killed and about 560 people injured.
For our tiny island, racial discord is a burden too costly to bear. The need to instil a solemn understanding of the nation’s vulnerabilities spurred the introduction of National Education (NE) 10 years ago, with the objective to develop national cohesion, an instinct for survival and confidence in the future of Singapore.
One of the key events schools commemorate as part of NE is Racial Harmony Day, which falls on 21 July to mark the day in 1964 when racial riots broke out in Singapore. When schools celebrate Racial Harmony Day today, various activities are planned to help students understand and appreciate the cultures and practices of each race.
Take for example the celebration activities for Racial Harmony Day at CHIJ Katong Convent this year. One activity was a video of interviews with students about what Racial Harmony Day meant to them and the activities they would like to have for this day. “The interviews done by the students were really good. It was a very sincere reflection of students’ awareness of racial harmony,” observed Mrs Emily Sim, covering Head of Department for PE. Added Science teacher Mr Lim Kheam Soon, “The interviews were a good platform for students to share their views on racial harmony and issues surrounding it.”
Girls from the Dance Club performed a Balinese dance, which they picked up from one of the school’s teachers, Mr Juraimy.
On a more energetic note, three teams of students, winners of a dance competition held for the Sec 1 to 3 classes, danced their way into the hearts of the audience, with each group creatively blending songs and dance steps from the cultures of different races.
The celebration extended to recess time, when Sec 1 students competed in traditional games such as five stones, chapteh, congkak and pick-up sticks. Sherilyn Tan, a Sec 3 student and president of the Student Councillors, reflected on the activities, saying, “This year’s celebration was special because most of the activities required everyone to work together, no matter what race or religion we belonged to. For example, every Sec 3 class had to come up with a fusion food item and sell it during the mass recess.”
The Parent Teacher Support Group also got into the act and among the many unusual items for sale in school that day included fusion food such as satay popiah, naga sari (a wrap made with banana and green peas) and abok-abok (a Malay dessert made from sago and gula Melaka). Through such diverse activities, students get to see, taste and experience one another’s cultures and practices.
To add to the festive ambience, the school premises were festooned with colours and objects that represent the four races, all tied together in one perfect racially harmonious presentation. At Katong Convent that day - and no doubt at schools across Singapore - students and staff went home with a lasting memory of a Singaporean identity that will continue to be each and every individual’s treasured heritage.