This story first appeared in National Heritage Board's book, titled, 'Attack Of The Swordfish And Other Singapore Tales' by Charlotte Lim (Text) and Alicia Tan Yen Ping (Illustration). This book consists of six illustrated tales for early Primary school children that are based on Singapore legends or traditions and can be purchased here.
“Father, look!” cried a young boy from the shore. His father, who was unravelling his fishing net, raised his anxious face to the blue sea that had suddenly turned silver. It was teeming with swordfish twisting and stabbing their way towards some fishermen’s boats out at sea.
The man dropped the net and ran to sound the village gong. By the time the Raja, Paduka Sri Maharaja, and his soldiers arrived to investigate, they were stunned by all the confusion and panic on the coast.
Men, women and children were screaming and weeping as the long blades of the swordfish shot out of the water and pierced right through the helpless fishermen, killing them all.
The swordfish then rocketed towards the villagers on the shore. “Run for your lives!” they screeched.
The Raja ordered his brave men to go down to the water. “Form a wall with your legs and fight the swordfish!” he commanded.
Unfortunately, even the Raja’s mighty army could not overcome the swordfish. Soon the gleaming sea turned to a bloody red as the swordfish slashed and sliced the men’s legs. When he saw his men groaning and writhing in pain, the Raja called for them to retreat.
The young boy who had first spotted the swordfish taunted, “Why do we make a wall with our legs? It will only hurt us. Why don’t we use banana tree trunks instead? That way, the swordfish will only hurt themselves!”
The Raja was secretly awed by the boy’s cleverness but his pride was wounded. Although he did not want to take the boy’s advice, he knew that it was the best solution. With much reluctance, he ordered the villages to fell as many banana trees as possible. When the tide was low, the people worked quickly to build a barricade along the seashore.
The soldiers and the people kept watch, armed with parangs and spears. The sluggish sea awoke again. It swelled and shimmered once more with what seemed like an even greater legion of swordfish. This time, the swordfish charged right into the trap and found their sharp bills stuck in the tree trunks!
The villagers leapt into the water and slaughtered the defenceless shoal of swordfish. The island celebrated the victory with a big feast and everyone sang a grateful toast to the boy who saved their lives.
Everyone except the Raja. Jealous and afraid that the people might think the boy more worthy of the throne, the Raja schemed to get rid of him. After the celebrations, he sent his men, cloaked in darkness, to the top of the hill where the boy lived.
There, they committed great evil by stabbing the boy until he died. But the blood of the boy did not remain on their hands alone. It spewed out from the wounds on his body and flooded the hill, turning it slowly into one bloody mound.
The mound later came to be known as Redhill or Bukit Merah. The name remains to this day in modern Singapore as an extraordinary memorial to the boy who was said to have saved his village a long time ago.
Text by Charlotte Lim and Illustrations by Alicia Tan Yen Ping.