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The Mysterious Malay Jong and Other Temasek Shipping

NALANDA-SRIWIJAYA CENTRE LECTURE SERIES ‘1819 and Before: Singapore’s Pasts’
A special series of lectures commemorating Singapore's Bicentennial anniversary

Friday, 15 February 2019 -  Dr. Michael Flecker, a maritime archaeologist with 30 years of experience in shipwreck excavations and research in Southeast Asia presented this sixth lecture in the "1819 and Before: Singapore's Pasts" on the mysterious Malay Jong and Other Temasek Shipping. He was also a Visiting Fellow with the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre on two separate occasions.

Mr Kwa Chong Guan giving the opening introduction to the session, with Dr Michael Flecker to his left. (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

It is a known fact that Singapore has been a major trading centre since the 14th century. However, little is known of how people came to Singapore to trade; what they travelled on; and how these goods arrived in Singapore. According to Dr. Flecker, it is a challenge to identify the types of ships that came to Singapore because there have been no ancient shipwrecks reported within Singapore waters and no shipwreck of the mysterious Malay Jong has been found anywhere. This absence of wrecks means that there is no evidence of the types of ships that travelled to Singapore. However, Dr. Flecker presented information from historical sources and from terrestrial and maritime archaeological sites to illustrate and postulate the possible types of vessels which plied the seas during the Temasek period and beyond.

He started the lecture by introducing Southeast Asian ‘lashed-lug’ vessels. He explained that such vessels were common from the 3rd to 14th century. Archaeological data from shipwrecks elsewhere such as the Jade Dragon Wreck, Java Sea Wreck, Flying Fish Wreck, Lingga Wreck, Cirebon Wreck and Punjulharjo Wreck have indicated the strong presence of ships of such construction throughout Southeast Asian waters. 

When approaching the topic of the Malay Jong, Dr. Flecker covered some Portuguese sources which described the Jong and how it was constructed. By piecing together information from various historical drawings and records, he was able to provide a good description of the Jong and provided a hypothesis on its shape and size.


About 60 people from various government, private, and educational institutions, as well as members of the public attended the lecture (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Flecker also spoke of the possible type of ship that may have come from the Indian subcontinent or Arab world. In addition to drawings of Arab ships that he highlighted in the presentation, the 9th century Belitung shipwreck remains one of the best examples of such ships as the design had changed little over the centuries. The archaeological data from this shipwreck provides a lot of information related to the construction of such ships. This data was used to construct a full-sized replica, thus providing a better understanding of how these ancient ships may have appeared and performed.

He also covered the possible Chinese ships which may have plied the route from China down to Southeast Asia and Singapore. Comparing the archaeological remains found on land in Singapore with other shipwreck data, it is plausible that Chinese Junks may have sailed down the South China Sea to trade within Singapore’s waters. Shipwrecks found in the Paracel Islands, the Bakau Wreck in Indonesia, and the Binh Thuan Wreck in Vietnam offer strong evidence that Chinese ships which sailed down to this area may have had either a V-shaped or flat-bottomed hull.

Ships from hybrid construction techniques from both Southeast Asian and Chinese traditions may have also plied the sea route around Singapore. The Longquan, Phu Quoc and the Klang Au wreck were examples of ships which manifested a combination of Southeast Asian and Chinese ship construction elements; known as the South China Sea tradition.

The lecture concluded with the possibility of surveying the area around the Raffles Lighthouse. Unlike most parts of Singapore’s southern coast which have been reclaimed or subject to heavy shipping traffic, the Raffles Lighthouse area is relatively untouched and may be a site for shipwrecks which may hold information on the vessel types that passed through Singapore over the centuries.


Dr Flecker answering a question during the Q&A session. (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

During the Q&A session, Dr. Flecker addressed questions and comments relating to the material, construction and operation of the ships, the cargo and crew implements and the other definitions of the term Jong. Notable questions such as the appearance of the Hybrid Jongs and the iron trade in Southeast Asia highlighted the multitude of research possibilities which can help further the understanding of maritime interactions within Southeast Asia.

Click here for other lectures in  ‘1819 and Before: Singapore’s Pasts’ series