Sentosa, which translates to peace and tranquility in Malay, is a popular island resort in Singapore, visited by some five million people a year. Attractions include a two-kilometre long sheltered beach, Fort Siloso, two golf courses and two five-star hotels, and the Resorts World Sentosa, featuring the new theme park Universal Studios Singapore.

Sentosa was once known as Pulau Blakang Mati which in Malay means the "Island (pulau) of Death (mati) from Behind (blakang)".

The name Blakang Mati is rather old but may not have been founded in the nineteenth century as generally believed. In fact, there exists an island that was identified as Blacan Mati in Manuel Gomes de Erédia's 1604 map of Singapore. Other early references to the island of Blakang Mati include Burne Beard Island in Wilde's 1780 MS map, Pulau Niry, Nirifa from 1690 to 1700, and the nineteenth century reference as Pulau Panjang (J.H. Moor). However, early maps did not separate Blakang Mati from the adjacent island of Pulau Brani, so it is uncertain to which island the sixteenth century place names referred.

The island has gone through several name changes. Up to 1830, it was called Pulau Panjang ("long island"). In an 1828 sketch of Singapore Island, the island is referred to as Po. Panjang. According to Bennett (1834), the name Blakang Mati was only given to the hill on the island by the Malay villagers on the island. The Malay name for this island is literally translated as "dead back" or "behind the dead"; blakang means "at the back" or "behind"; mati means "dead". It is also called the dead island or the island of the dead.

Different versions of how the island came to acquire such an unpropitious name abound. One account attributed the ominous name to murder and piracy in the island's past. A second claimed that the island is the material paradise of warrior spirits buried at Pulau Brani.

A third account claims that an outbreak of disease on the island in the late 1840s almost wiped out the original Bugis settlers on the island. Dr Robert Little, a British coroner investigating the deaths, stumbled upon what was called Blakang Mati Fever, purportedly a type of fever caused by miasmastic fumes arising from decaying leaves and swampy water on the island. This event led to a controversy in medical circles at that time as to the causes of what was later recognised in 1898 as malaria spread by the Anopheles mosquito. The government's malaria research station was originally located here.

A fourth interpretation is that "dead back island" was so-called because of the lack of fertile soil on the hills. However, since the island creates an area of dead water behind it with no wind (hence "still behind" - still or stopped being an alternative translation of mati) it may be as simple as this — less romantic perhaps, but believable from a nautical viewpoint.

In 1827, Captain Edward Lake of the Bengal Engineers in his report on public works and fortifications had proposed an alternative name for Blakang Mati as the "Island of St George". However, the island was seen as too unhealthy for habitation and his proposed name was never realised.

In a 1972 contest organised by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, the island was renamed Sentosa, a Malay word meaning "peace and tranquillity".

Through the 1980s and 1990s, a number of pay-to-get-in tourist designations were built on the island, most of which the local people found uninteresting. Consequently, there was a joke about the name Sentosa stood for "So Expensive and Nothing TO See Also."

Planning to visit Sentosa in Singapore? You can book your hotel accommodations HERE

Click HERE to see the attractions in Sentosa.

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