As a student of History, I think it’s not necessarily bad to take down statues of figures such as colonialists and slave traders. The purpose of having statues of these figures is to literally put them on a pedestal and honour them. We don’t need to have statues to remember and learn the history they represent. After all, there aren’t any statues of Hitler and most statues of Lenin have been destroyed. But we still learn about their lives and actions in school and through books, films and museum exhibitions.
The statue of Stamford Raffles has stood in front of the Victoria Memorial Hall since 1919. During the Bicentennial commemoration last year, there was much discussion over his legacy and that of colonial rule in Singapore. Raffles looted many artefacts during the British invasion of Java. Priceless Malay cultural artefacts and manuscripts were lost when Raffles’ ship “Fame” burned and sank in 1824. British rule also meant the dispossession of the indigenous people who were gradually left out of the booming colonial economy.
I don’t support the destruction or disposal of Raffles’ statue. But if the statue of Raffles is ever shifted to a museum with added context explaining his complex legacy, that doesn’t mean Raffles is being wiped from our national consciousness or that history is being “erased”. There are plenty of roads and institutions bearing his name to remind us of him.
But what it does mean is that we can finally acknowledge the impact of colonialism on the indigenous people of this region by vacating his place of honour. It would also be a potent signal that after more than five decades of independence, Singapore is finally ready to move out of its coloniser’s shadow.