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
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
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
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
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,
"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
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
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
"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
Mrs Sara Kaur's eyes teared when she
heard the anthem sung on her daughter's first day at
"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
Said Mr Aloysius Menon, 76, a retiree:
"When I was in school, we used to sing God Save
"But I'm glad we have our own
national anthem, it's a powerful symbol of our
"It says to me: This is my
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,
Below are the Malay lyrics and the
English translation, obtained from the Ministry of
Information and the Arts.
Mari kita rakyat
Sama-sama menuju bahagia
Cita-cita kita yang mulia
Marilah kita bersatu
Dengan semangat yang baru
Semua kita berseru
We, the people of
Together march towards happiness
Our noble aspiration
To make Singapore a success.
Let us all unite
In a new spirit
Together we proclaim
First published in the Straits
Times, July 26, 1991.
Majulah Singapura has been sung
for 32 years
5 or 6
anthems in the old days
Copyright © 1998 Singapore Press
Holdings. All Rights Reserved.