History

Did Sang Nila Utama really see a lion?

by Ian Chew

Nobility, strength, and majesty are just a few traits that come to mind when one thinks of lions. A place so named—like Singapura, the Lion City—would benefit from association with such a powerful and charismatic animal. But what if the origin story of Singapore, steeped in mythology, is based on a 700-year falsehood?

And they all beheld a strange animal. It seemed to move with great speed; it had a red body and a black head; its breast was white; it was strong and active in build, and in size was rather bigger than a he-goat. —Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals)
Singah: A symbol of royal power
What other animal could Sang Nila Utama have seen?

Which of these is ‘rather bigger than a he-goat’?

Disclaimer: Our stories have been researched and fact-checked to the best of our abilities. Should you spot mistakes, inaccuracies, or have queries about our sources, please drop us an e-mail at hello@kontinentalist.com
This story is written in collaboration with
Ian Chew

When not being an assistant taxonomist at a natural history museum, Ian Chew enjoys reading about and exploring the rich natural and cultural history of Southeast Asia. He hopes to spread appreciation for and interest in local heritage in the face of rapid environmental homogenisation.

Credits
Code / Siti Aishah
Illustration / Griselda Gabriele
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