9 Aug 2021

Whole day

Getting Here


ACM is a 5-minute walk from Raffles Place MRT Station (Exit H) 




For this National Day, discover some interesting objects connected to Singapore’s past from objects in the ACM galleries.


Please note that Singapore's current Safe Management Measures (SMM) will be in effect. You will need to wear a face mask and remain in your personal group (max 2 pax).  



1. FIND the object using the floorplan provided.

2. LOOK closely at each object using the guiding questions.   

3. READ the object labels in the gallery for answers. 

4. CLICK on the provided links to explore more about the object at home with our digital resources.


Tour duration: Approximately 45 minutes  


Route: Lobby -> Level 2, Ancestors & Rituals -> Level 3, Fashion & Textiles -> Level 1, Singapore Archaeology

  • Object 1 – Betel Box

    From the lobby, take the Grand Staircase to Level 2, walk through the Ancient Religions Gallery and enter the Ancestors & Rituals Gallery.

    In the Ancestors & Rituals Gallery, look for the second showcase, located in the left centre of the gallery. You will see a betel box in lacquered leather and gold.

    AR Floor Plan


    Betel box 
    Riau-Lingga Archipelagomid-19th century
    Leather, lacquer, gold

    - What's special about this box?
    - What was it used for?
    - What patterns can you spot?

    The custom of chewing betel (makan sirih in Malay) has a long history in Southeast Asia. This practice was enjoyed by a broad section of society until the mid-20th century. Although it is often referred to as betel chewing, what is chewed is the betel quid (shaved areca nut and lime wrapped in a betel leaf). Betel chewing was an important part of social interaction and ritual, and often associated with hospitality. A guest would typically be offered a quid assembled from ingredients kept in a betel box.

    This leather betel box is covered with red lacquer and decorated with gold tooling (designs punched or cut into the surface with special tools). The scrolling leaves and floral decoration are contained within panels. This motif of neatly arranged, curling leaves is known as awan larat, symbolic of the perpetual ebbing and flowing of life.

    Museum records indicate that this box was purchased from Tungku Aisa binti Tungku Yahaia Lingga, possibly a princess of the Johor-Riau-Lingga royal family, who lived in Singapore in the vicinity of Istana Kampung Gelam.

    Click here to learn more about the Ancestors & Rituals Gallery.

  • Object 2 – Cheongsam with selendang 

    Exit from the far end of the Ancestors & Rituals Gallery and take the Central Staircase to Level 3. Turn right and enter the Fashion and Textiles Gallery. Head towards the showcase on the left, against the wall. You will see a cheongsam with selendang on a mannequin, raised on a blue platform.

    FT Floor Plan

    2010-03461 (01)

    Cheongsam with selendang 
    Singapore, 1990s
    Silk batik
    National Museum of Singapore, Gift of Mdm Kwa Geok Choo, 2010-03461


    What is special about this cheongsam?  
    - Who wore this cheongsam?   
    - Can you imagine an occasion when this dress would have been worn?


    This cheongsam (qipao in Mandarin Chinese) with matching shawl (selendang in Malay) was owned by Mdm Kwa Geok Choo (1920–2010), accomplished lawyer and wife of founding Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Mdm Kwa was one of the earliest female lawyers in Singapore and was involved in drafting part of a key amendment to the Agreement on the separation of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965.

    The featured design on the cheongsam was produced in batik, a wax-resist technique used to decorate finished fabrics. Batik is commonly worn for formal occasions in Southeast Asia. Tailored cheongsams as everyday dress for Chinese Singaporeans fell out of fashion by the 1970s, but they were revived in the 1990s as formal wear for women of power in the public sphere, like Mdm Kwa. She would have worn it at public functions, or perhaps at diplomatic meetings with dignitaries from Indonesia or Malaysia.

    Click here to learn more about the cheongsam with selendang.

  • Object 3 – Materials excavated from the 1998 excavation at Empress Place

    Exit the gallery and take the Central Staircase to Level 1, walk along the long corridor and head towards the Singapore Archaeology section of the Trade Gallery. Look for the showcase on the right side of the gallery, against the wall. You will see broken pieces of pottery, bones, and coins.

    Trade Floor Plan


    Materials excavated from the 1998 excavation at Empress Place

    Ceramics, coins: China, 11th to 15th century

    Ceramics, bone, seashells: Southeast Asia and Singapore, 14th or 15th century



    What items can you identify here?
    - How do you think they were used? And for the coins and pottery, where might they have been made? How did they get here?
    - How has the Singapore River evolved over the years?


    The Singapore River was a lifeline of the island for centuries. Singapore’s ancient name, “Temasek”, means “sea port” in Old Javanese, and was mentioned in Chinese, Javanese, and Vietnamese records of the 14th and 15th centuries.

    An archaeological excavation in 1998 on the banks of the Singapore River led by Professor John Miksic uncovered a dense layer of 14th-century artefacts, indicating that the site was the location of an active settlement.

    Objects found include many different kinds of Chinese ceramics: celadons from Longquan, white wares from Dehua and Shufu; blue-and-white wares from Jingdezhen. Song dynasty Chinese coins, bronze fishing hooks, bones, shells, and Southeast Asian earthenware were also discovered.

    These archaeological finds show that a wide range of goods were traded here in Singapore. The fishing hooks, bones, and shells offer a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived and worked near the river as early as the 14th-century. The abundance of ceramic sherds hints at the prosperity and bustling trade activities of the settlement at that time.                                       

     Click here to learn more about the objects unearthed around the Singapore River.