Founder of Orang Laut SG
Using food as a vehicle and the first connecting point, I believe I've been able to start a wider conversation about indigenous culture, traditions and history.
Tell us your story, how did you get here?
I started Orang Laut SG during Covid-19. The pandemic was a time when I did the most self-reflection. I’ve never had so much time to myself. I did a lot of thinking and the question that came to mind was: “What’s most important to me?”
Like many others, the pandemic forced us to be closer to the people at home. I’ve always been close to my mum, Mdm Nooraini. During the pandemic, I heard the stories she kept telling me about her life on Pulau Semakau. But this time, I listened.
I had a little realisation (or maybe a huge one) that her stories are the most important thing to her and my family. Because all she has to hang on to are her memories of life on Pulau Semakau, the food she learned to cook on the island, and the little pearls of wisdom that can only come with experiencing life as an Orang Laut/Pulau.
I started @oranglautsg, a page dedicated to retelling and reclaiming narratives of Pulau Semakau that offer something tangible – our traditional food. I hope through food, I’m able to share our narrative and shape what Orang Laut/Pulau traditions were and are.
What impact have you made in Singapore?
Personally, I sense that there’s increased interest in the narratives of the Orang Laut community. People are made aware of the indigenous people of Singapore and are beginning to acknowledge their existence. I’ve also noted an increase in the number of other Orang Laut/Pulau descendants coming forth to share their narratives.
In August 2021, I was on TEDxYouth@Singapore to share the sustainable ways of the indigenous Orang Laut community. I’ve also spoken on various platforms to champion indigenous rights and issues that may affect the community, like traditional foraging and fishing.
Using food as a vehicle and the first connecting point, I believe I’ve been able to start a wider conversation about indigenous culture, traditions and history.
What does 2022 look like for you?
I’m hoping to work with more organisations and schools to talk about indigenous culture in Singapore. In May, I’m working with National Heritage Board as part of Singapore’s Heritage Festival to share educational tours and food sharing and storytelling sessions.
Our home-based food business will remain as-is, while we look forward to working with more venue partners to host wider storytelling and food-sharing sessions. I also aim to finish the book I’m currently working on about my family’s history and Singapore’s southern islands, specifically Pulau Semakau. The book is to be published sometime next year (fingers crossed!).
What do you love most about Singapore?
While I love Singapore’s food offerings, I believe there are many stories yet to be unearthed that come with almost every dish we eat. I hope that more younger individuals in Singapore will come forth and reclaim their narratives – through food, art, or any mediums they prefer.
If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?
My mother’s sotong hitam because there’s no other like it. I encourage everyone to try it at least once.
Who is your Local Legend, and why?
My local legend is Khir Johari who has written and published the book “The Food of Singapore Malays”. It’s an extensively researched book about Malay food in Singapore, its influence and its origin. Khir took 11 years to work on the book and I hope to be as meticulous and passionate as him.
Another local legend I look up to is Asnida Daud, a descendant from Pulau Sudong. She’s a veteran performer and Malay culture advocate who uses her platform to talk about the history of Pulau Sudong. Recently, I had the opportunity to perform at Esplanade and Singapore Writer’s Festival alongside Asnida Daud, where she showcased her vocal prowess and amazing songwriting skills.