The 1950s and 1960s were a momentous time for Singapore. From self-government (1959) to Merger with Malaya (1963) to Independence (1965), it was a period when Singapore was beset with uncertainties and challenges as it sought an identity it could call its own. The post-war generation, like Singapore, was also trying to find its footing while searching for its future. But in spite of the political turbulence and social unrest, children growing up in those times were still able to enjoy happy childhood years.
The kampung (Malay for “village”), school and popular entertainment venues were familiar spaces in which children spent most of their time. Although living conditions were poor and outbreaks of fires and diseases were common in the kampung, it was a community space where children lived and played together. For a child going to school in those days, life was anything but uneventful. Many Chinese middle school students were involved in anti-colonial movements in the 1950s, protesting against what they saw as the government’s unfair treatment towards them. Schools also provided a platform, both within and outside the classroom, for students of all races to learn about the commonalities among them and experience an emerging new national identity. The entertainment scene, be it through public venues or the mass media, inspired many with its diverse range of performances and opportunities.
Set against the larger historical context of Singapore’s early years as a young nation, this gallery offers the parallel societal changes in the tumultuous 1950s and 1960s through the kampung, school and entertainment venues. In these social spaces, children found friendship, shared their experiences and looked out for one another. The displays here offer insight into how these different spaces spurred a child’s imagination, and how, in spite of the political and social strife, those growing up in post-war Singapore were inspired to pursue their dreams and aspirations.
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Image: © National Museum of Singapore.
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