My most recent article for BiblioAsia investigates the German Girl shrine on Pulau Ubin, a space-shipped shaped island just off the coast near Singapore’s Changi airport. Its a fascinating story and you can read it here: https://biblioasia.nlb.gov.sg/vol-17/issue-3/oct-dec-2021/ubinsgermangirlshrine
This article is the second in my site-specific studies in Singapore. The first, also published in BiblioAsia, focused on Karikal Mahal. Read that here: https://biblioasia.nlb.gov.sg/vol-16/issue-3/oct-dec-2020/karikal
I am now working on a study of keramat in Singapore as part of a Lee Kong Chian Research Fellowship from NLB. This will be followed by work on the intersection of zoos, films, and exotic/erotica in the region. All of this work is planned as a book that presents an alternate history of Singapore…sometime in the next few years (check out my most recent book here: https://www.routledge.com/Alfred-Raquez-and-the-French-Experience-of-the-Far-East-1898-1906/Gibson/p/book/9780367702489)
There were some images for the German Girl shrine we did not include in the published article. Check those out here:
This map from 1923 shows the Wee Cheng Soon Quarry operation at the 190-foot-tall Ong Lye Sua, now Ketam Quarry. This is where the original shrine was located before being moved in the 1970s. Note that the 190 foot peak would have been a navigation mark for the dangerous shallows around the nearly flat Pulau Ketam. In this map, Bukit Puaka is unnamed but sits across the Sungei Puaka estuary, home to the Topham Jones & Railton Quarry. https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/maps_building_plans/record-details/b87a1a8f-57a3-11e6-b4c5-0050568939ad
This aerial photograph shows the extend of the quarrying works at Ong Lye Sua in 1969. Within a few years, the hillside by the shore would be completely levelled. The original shrine is somewhere in this photograph…but where? A bend in the Sungei Puaka can be seen at bottom left. https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/photographs/record-details/6b5b3212-9abb-11e4-859c-0050568939ad
Here are some images of the shrine itself:
[“Foreign Girl Becomes a ‘Datuk Girl’”], Xin Ming Ri Bao, 29 December 1987, 4.
The “Man in the Hat” (and my friend) Julian Davison walks away from the shrine in these still images from a 2004 episode of the TV show Site and Sound. “The Last Wild Place to Change Its Face.” Site and Sound with Julian Davison S02 E12.
The shrine in 2007 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Girl_Shrine (the pages needs updating now that my research is published). This is how it looked when I first encountered it in 2006.
As I explain in my article, it underwent a complete renovation in 2015.
Here are some early photos of the altar, for those who are curious about the urn. The first is the oldest known image, [“Strangely Wondrous Temple”], Lianhe Wanbao, 14 July 1990, 2. Note the perfume and cosmetics left as offerings.
Ten years later, this still image from Ho Choon Hiong’s documentary film shows the same urn in place.
And here’s Julian leaning on the altar in 2004. Note the lottery number taped to the altar.
And the urn as it appears today, between the “haunted Barbie” and the new icon. A note on the doll…there are numerous photos of it online and it clearly has been changed regularly. I haven’t collected and collated all those images…you give it try…its fun!
This large termite mound can be found in the scrub just behind the shrine. As I explain in my article, the so called German Girl most likely began as a datuk kong (earth spirit) shrine, a termite mound that was in the shape of a woman laying down.
BUT for those of you who want to hang onto the German Girl story, there is a provocative name associated with the rubber plantation that replaced the coffee plantation. This information is not included in the BiblioAsia article. It’s only for the brave few who found my sad little blog.
The Singapore and Straits Directory for the year 1913 lists an assistant on the Pulo Obin Estate with the Dutch name of “A. Milkuizen,” and it is possible this man was present on the island for part of the following year, as his name appears as “Milkhuisen” in The Directory & Chronicle for China, Japan, Corea, Indo-China, Straits Settlements, Malay states, Siam, Netherlands India, Borneo, the Philippines, &c. for 1914, the year of the war (though the later date could be explained by the publishing schedule in Hong Kong).
Nothing more is known about this man. Could his daughter be the origin of the sweet Dutch-German girl villagers remembered years later? The mystery won’t die!!!
There’s much more to the story that I investigated that did not make it into the BiblioAsia article. The presence of Tamil workers on the coffee planation, and later Bawanese workers on the rubber planation, multiple misidentifications of the names of the owners and managers of the plantation by bloggers and even NParks, a broader discussion of the quarrying operations on Ubin and the transformation of the island into a nature reserve (at one point in the 1990s there was a plan for an HDB New Town on the western end, complete with MRT stations!)…there wasn’t space for all this in the magazine article but it will appear in some form at a later date. Stay tuned!!
Yours truly keeping good with the spirit (photo by Hikari D. Azyure).