Sir Stamford Raffles did not think highly of the Malays

Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819, and since then became a celebrated figure in Singapore’s history books. We named schools, roads, a hotel, and even an MRT station after him.

If LKY is the first person that comes to mind when thinking about Singapore, Raffles is probably the second.

A statue of him stands by the Singapore River today, an ode to where he first stepped foot onto the island.

While he built schools and churches in our local languages and allowed local businesses to grow, Sir Stamford Raffles had an equally colonial and prejudiced opinion when it came to his thoughts on Malays.

A Facebook post and a published book reveals Raffles’ thoughts:

It is also worth noting that Raffles had come to the Malay Archipelago with the assumption that the Malays were a rude, uncivilised and degraded race, much in decline from a high point of civilisation that they had once attained. No developments in thought and science were thus expected of them except for simple and crude ideas that existed in all aspects of life.


Like a father dissing his own child, he goes on to say:

Although he acknowledged them later as being advanced in civilisation, albeit at differing degrees and of varied characteristics, they were of no match to the Britons at that time and could only be compared “to some of the borderers in North Britain, not many centuries ago”


John Crawfurd, the second British Resident of Singapore, helped realise Raffles’ vision in Singapore and opened up Singapore’s infrastructure and trade.

He also thought rather lowly of the indigenous Malays.

[“T]he traditions of the Malay themselves are altogether undeserving of notice”, that their “imbecility of reason and their ignorance as to matters of fact, are equally beyond the comprehension of any one accustomed only to European society”, and hence “to speak of the native history of such a people, therefore, is obviously a mere mockery.



While their great contributions to Singapore is widely known, people don’t often discuss the colonialist mindset and dismissal of the native people in our history school books or museums. Perhaps it’s time we engaged both sides of our history.

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Featured image via Wikimedia