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Ente Veedu, My Home: When home is more than a place

2 mins read
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Event Details
25 Nov 2023 (Sat) - 15 Sep 2024 (Sun)
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Indian Heritage Centre

National sprinter Shanti Pereira and Singapore’s third president, the late Mr Devan Nair, are generations apart. But the track star and politician have one thing in common: they are both of Malayalee descent.

Their roots stretch all the way back to India’s Malabar Coast, or modern-day Kerala. Today, the region is famous for its stunning beaches and is a top tourist spot, nicknamed “God’s Own Country” by its tourism department. From Ayurvedic health resorts to traditional art performances to music, Kerala has so much to offer.

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Back in the 19th and 20th centuries, ships made regular calls at Malabar’s coastal ports, ferrying exotic spices, ivory, gemstones, silk, and all manner of luxury goods from Malabar to the rest of the world. Like the Malayalees themselves, who are made up of Malayalee Hindus, Christians, Catholics, and Muslims, the region’s diversity is difficult to sum up.

Enter Ente Veedu, My Home: Malayalees in Singapore, a community co-curated exhibition by the Indian Heritage Centre that aims to capture the courage, culture, entrepreneurship, and manifold existences of the Malayalees. It traces the journey of early Malayalee migrants who left home in search of better prospects, eventually arriving in Singapore.

Staying grounded amid change

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Culture represents a lifeline to identity, community and home especially when in a foreign land. Ente Veedu gives visitors a glimpse into festivals, culinary traditions, and artefacts that connect the Singaporean Malayalee community to Kerala and to each other, with interactive features across four zones.

Onam, for instance, is a harvest festival still celebrated by Singaporean Malayalees, even though they have long since left their agricultural roots behind. Over the course of 10 days, families get together to celebrate, indulge in the grand onasadya feast, and decorate both indoors and outdoors with athapookalam, a type of flower arrangement.

In one section of the exhibition, a wooden box filled with cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, and other exotic spices invites visitors to get a whiff of the kinds of spices used in traditional Malayalee cooking.

Photographs on the walls trace life from the 1930s to the modern era. Pictures of babies, couples, and large families in various shades of sepia and colour provide a rare glimpse of everyday life, and were kindly contributed by members of the Malayalee community.

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Even as Ente Veedu captures living culture, it makes sure not to leave out pioneers of the past. Although most Malayalee immigrants in Singapore were men, the women who did travel here made their mark as some of the earliest advocates for women’s civil rights. Ms Malathi Pillai, the first woman to contest in the Singapore Legislative Council election, serves as a fine example.

Their stories are countless, spanning nations, generations, and even a World War. But if Ente Veedu teaches visitors anything, it is this: home is where you make it.

Catch Ente Veedu, My Home: Malayalees in Singapore running till 15 September 2024 at the Indian Heritage Centre.
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Images are credited to the Indian Heritage Centre Singapore and Kerala Tourism.

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