Headlines, Lifelines

Few understand the lyrics of national anthem

BY Tan Hsueh Yun

MANY Singaporeans do not know the meaning of the lyrics to the national anthem, but when they hear it on National Day and on other occasions, their hearts swell with pride.

While many knew what the anthem meant in general, only seven out of 35 Singaporeans interviewed by The Straits Times knew the meaning of each word.

Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore) was written in 1958 by the late Mr Zubir Said.

It was formally presented to the nation in 1959, the year Singapore became a self-governing state.

The national anthem was one of the issues brought up during Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's visit to Bukit Panjang on Sunday.

During a meeting with community leaders, a lawyer suggested making adjustments to the national anthem as many Singaporeans now do not understand Malay.

In reply, the Prime Minister said he would keep the national anthem as it was, while ensuring that its translations in the other mother tongues were more easily available.

Although The Straits Times check showed that many people did not know the meaning of the anthem's Malay lyrics, all but three of those interviewed agreed that Singaporeans should continue to sing the anthem in Malay.

Miss Ho Ai Leng, 18, a student, did not understand the Malay words but felt that changing the anthem would be too drastic a step.

She said: "Why change it? I like the sound of it in Malay and I can't imagine singing it in another language."

Miss Jaswant Kaur, 20, an executive officer who knew the meaning of the words, agreed, saying: "I think having translations easily available is good enough.

"That way, those who don't speak Malay can understand what they are singing and we do not lose the flavour of the song we know so well."

Only three of those interviewed felt that the anthem should be in English because this is the language most commonly used here.

Said Ms Irene Siek, 42, a cooking instructor: "We're an international city and yet we still sing the anthem in Malay.

"It may be better to change it to English since so many people don't understand what the lyrics mean."

An alternative solution was offered by Mr Ong Boon Kiat, 58, a retiree. He called NewsLine to suggest that an English version of Majulah Singapura be tagged on to the existing Malay version and the two be sung together.

This combined version should also be taught to young people, starting in nursery school, he said.

"By the time these people grow up, they'll be singing the anthem with more passion," he said.

"We've been toying with translations for such a long time and still people don't know what the words mean.

"I think having a combined English and Malay version will hasten the development of a national identity. It's moving too slow now."

But the others felt that simply knowing what they were singing would make them appreciate the anthem more.

Many knew the song urged Singaporeans to strive in unity for progress, but often, they simply mouthed the words without realising their meaning.

Said Mr Ivan See, 28, a technician: "Of course I can sing it, but the meanings stump me because I can't speak Malay."

Said Mr Chiang Hock Joo, 32, a bank officer: "My nieces and nephews sing it every morning. If they understand what they are singing, they'll sing it with more fervour."

Many, like Madam Neo Sok Fang, 59, a cleaner, felt that a Chinese translation of the anthem would help Chinese-educated people like herself.

She said in Mandarin: "All I know is mari kita, but I don't know what the words mean.

"Maybe when they have the anthem on Channel 8, they can have the Chinese translation as well.

"I'm not too good at singing but at least I will know what the anthem means."

All the interviewees, even those who did not know the meaning of the lyrics, said they felt a sense of pride when they heard or sang the national anthem during National Day and at other times.

Said Mr Azman Mohd, 23, a National Serviceman: "I feel really proud whenever we go to Thailand or Malaysia for military exercises and they play our anthem.

"Somehow, hearing it in a foreign country really makes me appreciate being a Singaporean."

Mrs Sara Kaur's eyes teared when she heard the anthem sung on her daughter's first day at primary school.

"I never thought it would affect me that much but you should have seen it -- all those little children singing their national anthem. It was beautiful," said the 34-year-old, who is self-employed.

Said Mr Aloysius Menon, 76, a retiree: "When I was in school, we used to sing God Save the King.

"But I'm glad we have our own national anthem, it's a powerful symbol of our national identity.

"It says to me: This is my home."

The meaning of Majulah Singapura

The music and lyrics of Majulah Singapura were composed by the late Zubir Said. It was accepted as the State National Anthem on Nov 11, 1959.

Below are the Malay lyrics and the English translation, obtained from the Ministry of Information and the Arts.

Majulah Singapura

Mari kita rakyat Singapura
Sama-sama menuju bahagia
Cita-cita kita yang mulia
Berjaya Singapura.

Marilah kita bersatu
Dengan semangat yang baru
Semua kita berseru
Majulah Singapura
Majulah Singapura.

Onward Singapore

We, the people of Singapore
Together march towards happiness
Our noble aspiration
To make Singapore a success.

Let us all unite
In a new spirit
Together we proclaim
Onward Singapore
Onward Singapore.

First published in the Straits Times, July 26, 1991.

Majulah Singapura has been sung patriotically
for 32 years

5 or 6 anthems in the old days


Copyright 1998 Singapore Press Holdings. All Rights Reserved.