During the fourteenth century, a prince named Sang Nila Utama was out on a hunting trip when he caught sight of an animal he had never seen before. He then founded this little island where he had spotted this magnificent animal, and had named it “The Lion City” or Singapura, from the Sanskrit words “simha” (lion) and “pura” (city).

Soon after that The Lion City’s busy markets had fine craftsmen and merchants who sold goods like hornbill, cloth, spices and porcelain, but fierce battles broke among The Lion City and their neighbouring kingdoms. In one of these battles, The Lion City got defeated and was burnt to the ground. The only things left in the city were some coins and ceramic bowls. Over time these goods became buried in sand and dust.

And so the old and beautiful kingdom was forgotten.

A British colony

The Lion City stayed hidden for over 200 years until one day in 1819 when an Englishman called Stamford Raffles was sailing up the river and came across the old lion city. Raffles liked it so much that he went to ask the two rulers, Sultan Hussein and Abdul Rahman if he could set up a trading post.

Soon enough The Lion City became a British colony, this meant that The Lion City belonged to England.

With his friend, Colonel William Farquhar, Raffles started building roads, shophouses, streets, markets and even a free port for ships and boats to come and trade.


Everything was going great, until one night when all the people of Singapura where fast asleep, war paid a visit. The Japanese dropped bombs from up high and marched into the city with frightening swords and guns.

The people of Singapura were not prepared to fight but tried as hard as they possibly could, but still it was not enough. Quickly Singapura was defeated! And so Japan took over Singapura, changing Singapura’s name to Syonan-To.

Japan ruled very cruelly for three and a half more years, they started killing and torturing the people of Singapura, making them not feel safe anymore.

After three and a half cruel years, Japan lost to Britain. Singapura was free at last! Everyone was happy! Can you believe that even the children were excited to go back to school and be with their friends?

Lee Kuan Yew

After the war, people became unhappy. They didn’t want to be a British colony anymore. They wanted to be free. A young man named Lee Kuan Yew and his friends wanted to turn this dream into reality. They asked the Queen for independence and she granted Mr Lee and his friends their wish.  In 1965, Singapura became Singapore when it parted with Malaysia.

Singapore is now a sovereign country, we have now celebrated fifty-one years of independence.

Photo credit: Zheng Lai Ming.  To read more about the artist go to:


Lee Kuan Yew, 2015, oil on canvas, 230 x 192 cm. Private Collection.

Eva’s note:

Raffaella is only 10 years old; she has a big imagination.  This was an essay she had to write in class. She picked Singapore as a topic to research about because “The Lion City” is her home. Knowing the story of the city in which one calls home is important for self-image and identity.  As a Third-Culture Child, home is wherever her parents choose to live; for now, Singapura is home.

Every city has a story; nations are built over time and learning about the history of Singapore made Raffaella realise that hard-work, people and love are the important ingredients that nations are built on.

Zheng Lai Ming is Eva’s art teacher. She has been taking lessons sporadically from him. Hyper-realist oil portraits take talent, hard-work and lots of dedicated love. The colossal canvases that Zheng paints on require skill and a good eye for the minutest of details.

Working with Zheng has made Eva realise that artists are both born and made; they are born with an innate talent and are made to be keepers of this talent by a divine design.


One thought on “Singapore – The Lion City by Raffaella Nava

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