There are as many as eleven shrines and nine temples on the island of Pulau Ubin, but none catches the imagination as much as the German Girl Shrine, which is located near Ketam Quarry at the western side of island.
How did the shrine come about? And how did a German girl become a deity on the island? The story began in the 1910s, just before the First World War (1914-1918) broke out.
There was a German family living on Pulau Ubin at the turn of the 20th century, owning a coffee plantation on the northeastern island of Singapore. According to research, the plot of land used to belong to two German families, Daniel Brandt and Hermann Muhlingan, but the identity of the German girl remains unknown.
On 4th August 1914, the United Kingdom declared war on the German Empire, and the colonial government in Singapore started seizing German ships, businesses and properties.
On Pulau Ubin, the British military rounded up the German plantation owner and his family. His frightened daughter, around 18 years of age (said to be born in 1896), escaped into the woods. The rest of her family was sent to a detention barrack on mainland Singapore.
A few days later, the girl’s body was found covered with ants by the Malay plantation workers. It was assumed she had lost her way and fell to her death from a cliff.
After the war, the Germany family returned to Pulau Ubin, looking for the remains of their precious daughter, but could not locate her tombstone. Bitterly, they left Singapore and never returned. The exhumed remains of the dead German girl, however, were said to have kept in a Chinese Taoist temple on a hill together with an iron cross and some coins.
In 1974, a granite quarry company took over the hill for development. A new temple was erected to house the porcelain urn that contained the remains. Soon, the temple became popular with worshippers who prayed for good luck in gambling. The hardcore gamblers attributed their winning streaks to the spirit of the German girl, now regarded as a deity. Offerings of fruits, flowers, cosmetics and perfumes filled up the altar.
The German deity was also known as Lady Datuk by the local Chinese. A few years back, a former Ubin resident who had migrated to Australia dreamed of the deity for three consecutive days. To pay his respect, he bought a Barbie doll and sent it to Pulau Ubin. The doll had since become the symbolic idol of the shrine.
There are rumours that the porcelain urn is now empty, and the remains of the German girl were lost decades ago. Her identity and family remain untraceable today. But on an optimistic point of view, it might be a blessing for the spirit of the German girl, who has become part of Pulau Ubin’s history and is still remembered by the islanders after almost a century.
Published: 13 October 2012