merlionImage Source: istockphoto

Animals have been used to symbolize and represent a place’s identity. Tigers, for example is often associated with India as the mighty King of the Jungle the lion is to Africa. The United States of America has the majestic bald eagle while Canada embodies the spirit and attitude of a calm – but aggressive when provoked – moose. The Philippines of course has the carabao as its national animal while Russia, to symbolize its strong nation, uses the fearsome bear. A lot of places around the world choose an animal that is most fitting to the image they want to reflect, which is why it’s so interesting that Singapore chooses to have a mythical creature called the Merlion to represent the country. Here’s the story of how this half-fish half-lion became the mascot of a tiny country in Southeast Asia.


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Just like Cebu and the rest of the Philippine islands, Singapore was founded by a Malay prince. Ancient Singapore used to be called Temasek, meaing “sea town” as it was a humble fishing village. And when the 14th century came, Malay princes were spread out around Southeast Asia to rule the neighboring islands and their people as part of the Malay realm. One Malay prince, Sang Nila Utama, found Tumasik and decided to conquer it. When he first stepped foot on the island to establish a settlement there, he saw a freaking lion! That was when The Kingdom of Singapura was born. (Singa meaning “lion” and pura meaning “city” in the Ancient Sanskrit language). The place has been called the Lion City since then.

Skip to centuries ahead into the 1960’s, Singapore’s Tourism Board commissioned a man named Alec Fraser-Bruner to design a logo for the board as a means to promote the country’s tourism industry. As an homage to both the country’s sea town origin and its nickname as the “Lion City”, Fraser-Bruner created the Merlion symbol which was trademarked in July 1966.

A statue of the merlion was first installed in September 1972 and was originally placed near the mouth of the Singapore River. In 2002, the statue and its cub were relocated to the current Merlion Park across the Marina Bay. It has become one of the most enduring and unique animal symbols in the world.