For centuries, the Singapore River has borne witness to the tides of history, from the orang laut (sea people) of yesteryear to Singapore’s time as a British trading post. The national monuments along the river, such as the Asian Civilisations Museum, are also filled with echoes of the past.
But how much do Singaporeans know about the people who lived and worked near the river? Storytelling festival StoryFest 2023, which returns for its seventh edition on 6 and 7 October, will get adults and children curious to learn more.
For the very first time, the annual event will take the form of an outdoor storytelling trail known as Story Walk. The public can look forward to three stories, each anchored on an art bench, told by a local author with a personal connection to the stories.
Seat of Parliament
The journey begins outside The Arts House, also known as Old Parliament House.
Over at Lua Boon Kai’s whimsical red-and-green artwork This Is Not a Bench, storyteller Wesley Leon Aroozoo imagines what former president Benjamin Sheares might have been up to back in the day.
Besides being the country’s former president, Sheares also used to be its top gynaecologist. In fact, he delivered Aroozoo’s father with forceps way back in 1951, the author shares.
Aroozoo also gets listeners to imagine what the nearby Victoria Concert Hall & Concert Hall might have been like in the past, when his father used to sneak to watch popular bands such as The Crescendos.
River of Time
The next pitstop on the storytelling trail overlooks the part of the river near Boat Quay—dubbed “the Belly of the Carp” because of the way the river curves there.
Storyteller Laura Kee holds court at A Micropolyphonic Stage, a pair of water-droplet or comma-shaped benches overlooking the Singapore River. Standing on the bench designed by Joyce Beetuan Koh, she talks about the “hills of rice” in the riverside godowns (warehouses) where her uncle’s father worked as a foreman.
Further down the river, we see the final storyteller, Hafiz Rashid, at artist Immanuel Koh’s bench Re-Store / Neutral Artefact Black—which was designed by AI but handcrafted by artisans. According to family lore, one of Hafiz’s ancestors was an orang laut.
Sitting on mats on the ground, audiences will hear about the orang laut, their way of life, as well as the Singapore Stone, a slab of inscribed sandstone at the mouth of the river that was later blown up by the British.
Get crafty with a special arts and crafts session with artists Victor Emmanuel and Stellah Lim.
The three stories in the event—presented by Arts House Limited and The Storytelling Centre Limited—were woven together by author Verena Tay. The 30-minute walking trail culminates in an arts and crafts session by artists Victor Emmanuel and Stellah Lim.
“Story Walk is an artistic response to remember the many storytellers who sat by the river and shared tales,” said StoryFest’s Creative Producer Kamini Ramachandran.
“I would like our participants to become curious about the stories that reside within the walls of monuments and in the forms of artworks. Slow down, listen, and discover.”
Walk through history at StoryFest 2023 on 6 and 7 October 2023. Tickets are $10 for limited slots. A digital iteration will be available at the Light to Night Festival in January 2024.
All images are credited to StoryFest Singapore.