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The Legend of Pulau Ubin - The Elephant, The Pig and The Frog

Hi all,

Today I would like to share how the island of Pulau Ubin came to be.

If you were someone with quite a knowledge in geology, you would know that islands are formed in various ways; such as through volcanic eruptions, continental plates movement, land erosion or even man-made reclamation. While it is possible for Pulau Ubin to have been formed by at least one or more of the above-mentioned ways, what if I told you that Pulau Ubin was formed because of a legend?

Singapore's offshore islands are filled with legends and folklore. Some of you might be more familiar with the legend of Kusu Island - where a Chinese and Malay fisherman, whose sampans capsized in the midst of stormy seas, were rescued by a large golden tortoise which turned itself into an island for them to beach on, or that of the legend of Sisters' Islands - that speaks of the love of two inseparable sisters, Minah and Linah, who drowned at sea in an attempt to save one another from being separated by a pirate and because of their love, they were turned into islands to be with each other forever.

Just like these southern islands, Singapore's second-largest offshore island in the northeast also has its own legend; revolving around three animals - an elephant, a pig and a frog (or toad as discussed in one of my previous posts).

According to legends, the three animals challenged one another to see who was the best swimmer amongst themselves. They decided to race one another from the shores of Singapore, across the straits and whoever reached the shores of Johor first would be the winner; with one catch - they made a serious vow that whoever failed to make it through, would be turned into stone.

It was told in one account that the three of them jumped into the sea together eagerly, only for the skies to immediately become dark and stormy, forming huge waves and strong currents; posing as a huge challenge for the animals to swim safely through. Another account suggests that the frog went first, only to fail before the elephant and pig attempted, to only fail later on by huge waves that came out of nowhere. Nonetheless, both accounts agreed that none of the animals made it through, with the frog turning into Pulau Sekudu and both the elephant and pig turning into two separate islands known as Pulau Ubin today.

The famous "Frog Rock" of Pulau Sekudu. Photo courtesy of Home Shell of the Naked Hermit Crabs

Historically, Pulau Ubin was believed to originally be two separate islands; which could have proved the tales of the elephant and the pig. The two islands were believed to be separated by Sungei Jelutong in the south and possibly Sungei Besar towards the north, only for the riverbanks of these two rivers to be remapped by prawn farmers some time in the midst of a thriving prawn farming trade industry at the time. As shared by Pulau Ubin Stories in a blog post back in 2004, "farmers built mud bunds across the Jelutong river so as to form dams or pools of water so as to rear the prawns ... these mud bunds was formed across the river so as to join the two halves of Ubin to form one whole island."

As to when these farmers built the mud bunds remain a mystery to me as it is only believed to be quite recent when such a trade even thrived in Singapore. Even then, the earliest recorded map of Pulau Ubin in 1829 already showed Pulau Ubin as one whole island and it was not only until the late 19th century when a sizeable population started booming following the arrival of Endut Senin and other Malay villagers from the Kallang River.

The first detailed map of Singapore known as the Franklin and Jackson's Map was published in 1829, Pulau Ubin appears as one entire island under the name of Po Ubin. Photo courtesy of All Singapore Stuff

Without a doubt, the first recorded maps of pretty much anywhere in the world is always prone to flaws and ridiculous misproportions. Perhaps back then the mapmakers only viewed what could have been seen from the shores, even overlooking rivers as part of their maps which might explain why Ubin was drawn as an entire island with no regards to the accuracy and lengths of its various rivers.

Anyway back on topic, we now know that the elephant and the pig became Pulau Ubin and the frog became Pulau Sekudu and that completes the legend of Pulau Ubin; shared and passed down from many generations of Ubin residents, even from my mom to me! And so, I thought it would be nice that I share this legend with all of you, too.

Looking back at the map of Pulau Ubin, Pulau Sekudu is just one of its two offshore islands, with the other being Pulau Ketam or "Crab Island". Could it be possible that a crab also was one of the competing animals in the race, drowned and turned into an island? Or could it be that one fine day crabs were spotted all over the island and thus the island was given its name? Between you and me, that remains another mystery for another day.

Check out this cute animation of the legend of Pulau Ubin done by Hui Ho for Okto back in 2014:

May Pulau Ubin thrive again, with its people in its heart.

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