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Singapore island stories

Tales of Pulau Ubin and Kusu island


Published: 28 Jul 2021

Time taken : ~10mins

Did you know that Singapore is made up of 64 islands? Most of them have rich histories and stories of their own, including their own legends and folktales. Explore the origin stories of Pulau Ubin and Kusu Island before watching the story of Kusu Island come to life in an animated video presented by the National Library Board, in collaboration with Esplanade Offstage.

1 | Pulau Ubin: The Elephant, the Pig and the Frog

A long time ago, there was an elephant, a pig and a frog who roamed the northeastern forests of Singapore. One hot day, they decided to head to the beach to cool off in the water.

They slowly entered the sea, all sighing a big sigh of relief when the cool water touched their skin. They were all having a good time splashing about when the frog suddenly turned to the elephant and pig and said, “I bet I’m the best swimmer here. After all, I have webbed limbs and smooth skin. I was made to swim!”

The elephant scoffed at the frog, stating, “But you’re so tiny! I am a much stronger swimmer, especially out at sea. I have powerful legs and a nose that allows me to breath above water.” The pig chimed in last, “Don’t count me out! My legs may be short but I can swim for a long time.”

The frog looked back and forth at the elephant and the pig in disbelief. Finally, he said, “Let’s settle this debate with a race. Whoever can reach the shore at the other side first will be declared the best swimmer!” The three animal friends agreed, all rushing towards the edge of the water, getting ready to jump back in. “On your marks, get set… go!” yelled the pig, squealing loudly as the animals dove back into the water. 

The animals swam furiously, each one putting in all their efforts to beat the others. They were so caught up in their own race that they did not notice the sudden change of the tide, which was going against them.

The frog, being the smallest of the animals, began to feel the effects of this current. Oh no, I'm going to drown, he thought, as he flailed his limbs helplessly, unable to keep up with the elephant and the pig.

The more he struggled, the more tired he became, and he eventually got swept away, turning into a small island that is now known as Pulau Sekudu (Frog Island). 

The elephant and pig were so caught up in racing that they did not notice their friend in distress. They kept moving forward with determination, each one too stubborn to back down even though they were both exhausted.  After some time, both creatures became too tired to swim any more, fainting in the middle of the sea. They floated out north and their bodies eventually turned into islands as well, making up present-day Pulau Ubin.

This story remains as a key part of Pulau Ubin's history. Coincidentally, there are rocks off the southeastern coasts of Pulau Ubin today, known to the island's inhabitants as Batu Gajah (Elephant's Rock) and Batu Babi (Pig's Rock).There is also Batu Kodok (Toad's Rock) on the nearby Pulau Sekudu, which was also known as Pulau Sekodok (One Toad Island) by the villagers.

Special thanks to Wan’s Ubin Journal for their assistance with this story. Read more about this legend here

2 | Kusu Island: The Fishermen and the Turtle

Once upon a time, there were two men who went out to sea to fish. They only had a small wooden boat that was just big enough for the both of them.

While they were fishing, a storm descended on them suddenly, causing the waves to rise and rock violently against the small body of their boat. The two men were incredibly frightened, clutching tightly onto their oars and to the sides of the boat.

The two men closed their eyes in fear as the storm raged on. A huge wave crashed over them, capsizing their fragile boat and splintering it into pieces. The men were flung into the sea, tossed and turned in the churning waters. They managed to hold on to the planks of wood from the destroyed boat, crying out in fear as the waves washed over them.

From afar, a turtle who was swimming nearby spotted the two men in distress. It was alarmed by the danger they were in, wondering what it could do to help them.

What shall I do? They will drown soon if the storm goes on, thought the turtle. They were nowhere near land, and there were no other boats out at sea that could rescue them. The turtle swam towards the men, thinking hard about what it could do to help them. It began to concentrate on its thoughts, willing its body to expand. Finally, it succeeded. The two men were astonished but quickly climbed ashore on the turtle’s body, which had now turned into an island. 

The men were eventually rescued by other fishermen, who were surprised and puzzled by the sudden appearance of this island. They were so grateful to the turtle that they returned to the island once a year to give their thanks. They built two places of worship on the island according to their beliefs, a Muslim keramat (shrine) and a Taoist temple. Over time, the island became a site of pilgrimage for people all across the region, thus the existence of the yearly Kusu pilgrimage season we know today.

Watch the story of Kusu Island: The Fishermen and the Turtle come to life in this immersive animation presented by the National Library Board in collaboration with Esplanade Offstage.

Did you enjoy the stories? Find out more about Singapore’s wildlife and write your own story using the worksheets below!

Illustrations by: Tifanny Maulida Rasulia.

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