What would you have wanted as an offering after your death? According to this Singaporean legend, this young girl wanted a Barbie doll to appease her spirit in her afterlife. This is the story of the haunted Barbie doll in the shrine.  

On Pulau Ubin, a boomerang shaped island in northwest Singapore, a peculiar yellow shrine still stands. Hidden away in the forest as one of the last remaining places in Singapore free from urban development, concrete buildings and paved roads, people come to give offerings and pray for their good luck in gambling to the deity of a young German girl that died and remained on the island. 

It used to be a bigger population here, bustling with different businesses like plantations and granite mining. The very word Pulau Ubin means ‘Granite Island’ in Malay. Today, the granite quarries are empty or at least, abandoned. Reclaimed by vegetation or filled up with water.  

Pulau Ubin: The idyllic island is now a well known place to hike the trails and enjoy the nature in Singapore.
Photo: Zairon
File:Singapore Wildschweine auf Pulau Ubin 1.jpg
Pulau Ubin: The idyllic island is now a well known place to hike the trails and enjoy the nature in Singapore.
Photo: Zairon

The island used to have a few thousand settlers, but today, there are not even forty people left after the work in the quarries dried up. However, the one that still remains, is the spirit of the German girl that to this day, name is unknown. Several attempts have been made to trace the family of the girl back to Germany, but lack of public records of the family has still not been found. 

Now considered a taoist deity, the temple is full of taoist offerings as well as more unique offerings.Most notably a haunted Barbie doll sits between the incense and the food offerings. People still pay tribute to the shrine and the haunted Barbie doll, in the form of make-up, nail polish, mirrors and small feminine things. This to appease the girl who asked for the doll beyond the veil. 

Background For The Barbie Girl

At the start of the 1900s, uneasiness spread throughout Europe and a full fledged war rippled through the rest of the world as well. Although WWI didn’t quite reach south east Asia in full force as other places, the effects were still real for many of the European settlers in the colonies. 

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Singapore, being a part of the British Crown, was not very German friendly. During the 1910s, the island was home to two German families, the Brandts and the Muhlingans that ran coffee plantations according to the legend, although the proper sources for this are missing. 

In July 1914, the British started detaining Germans for security reasons as they were considered enemies to the crown. A military force was sent to Pulau Ubin to detain the two German families residing there. The Germans were, according to the story, sent to a detention barracks on mainland Singapore, mainly in the Tanglin Barracks. 

But the detaining would not go without a dramatic turn. A young daughter of one of the families became frightened and fled from the British forces into the wooded area and disappeared into the dark, never to be seen again. 

The Deity of the German Girl

Days went by without finding her body. And when she finally was discovered by Boyanese plantation workers, she was covered in ants. They concluded that she had died by falling down a cliff near one of the quarries that sustained the community on the island. The workers covered her body with sand and laid flowers on it. When they walked by the place, they said a prayer and lit incense for the girl. 

This was her resting place until Chinese workers recovered the remains of the body and buried the girl on a hill above the quarry. Being a roman catholich, they placed her Jiangsu urn with a crucifix and a number of coins as well as a few strands of her hair.

What happened to the family is still a mystery, but during the war, all German property was confiscated and their business halted. Today only the ruins and foundation of the plantation can be seen. In some versions of the legend, it tells that the family returned to the island after the war, searching for the remains of her daughter, but could’t find her tombstone due to language barriers. Little did they know her remains were kept in the Chinese Taoist temple in an urn on the hill. 

Bitter and sad about it, they left Singapore, never to return. Which is an odd addition to the legend as the family supposedly managed a business on the island before the war, and it’s weird that there suddenly were a language problem when they returned, supposedly to the same people that lived there before they were detained. 

She has since been addressed as Na Du Gu Niang, meaning Datuk Maiden. Sightings of her ghost by the local villagers have kept the legend of the nameless girl alive as well as the peculiar offerings to the shrine that eventually were erected in her honour. 

The Yellow Shrine  

The Shrine: The home of the deity has gone through many changes. Here as it was in 2015.
Photo: Pascal Vuylsteker 
File:German girl shrine a.k.a. Barbie doll shrine -singapore (16664410223).jpg
The Shrine: The home of the deity has gone through many changes. Here as it was in 2015.
Photo: Pascal Vuylsteker 

While the granite business was still alive on the island, a quarry company built a more permanent shrine in 1974, which is the small yellow chinese temple that still stands today. It is named Berlin Heiligtum, meaning Berlin Sanctuary. 

They transferred the lock of hair and iron cross to the new temple. But when the man who helped to place the remains in the new vase in 1974 checked in 1990, it was already gone, at least that is one of the tales this particular man told over the many years.  

When the shrine was constructed over the grave, it became associated with good luck, especially for gambling as rumours told about people winning the lottery after praying to the shrine. Therefore gamblers from Singapore as well as Malaysia came to the shrine to make offerings, in hope that the German girl would bless them with good luck.

And today the offerings are perhaps more to a young girl’s taste with nail polish, makeup, perfume and the now famous haunted Barbie doll. 

The Haunted Barbie Doll

Today a doll is placed as an important object in the shrine to the German girl in an enclosed box. Although not haunted as many other objects are rumoured to be, as in being possessed by the soul or a ghost, the origin of the doll is quite haunting. According to legend, and this is a more recent one, the legend will have it that the haunted Barbie doll was requested by the girl herself beyond the grave. 

Pink offerings at the altar: The German girl still gets many presents, many things are of what people think would suit a young girl. Like the now very well known Barbie doll//Photo: Source unknown/via Tineye
Pink offerings at the altar: The German girl still gets many presents, many things are of what people think would suit a young girl. Like the now very well known haunted Barbie doll//Photo: Source unknown/via Tineye

An unnamed islander who had moved to Australia kept having these strange dreams back in 2007. He dreamt of a European looking girl for three nights in a row that led him to a specific store with a specific Barbie doll. She asked for it to be placed at her altar back in Singapore. So when he found the same store and doll as he had dreamt of for so many nights, he bought it and brought it to the shrine. 

And over the years, the haunted Barbie doll itself has gained its own mysteries and haunted stories, giving new life to the story about the girl still not having crossed over from the mortal world entirely.

The Legends of Lies?

So who was the girl? Was there ever a girl? There is today no human remains in the grave as a definitive proof of the legend. Still, many people take the legend at face value today. But that is overlooking all the different tales that have been told throughout the years. Dr William L. Gibson, is one of the people that really took a deep dive into the legend and by just comparing the sources, found many discrepancies to the story told today in his excellent and detailed research you can read here.  

Many sources point to one man, named Chia Yeng Keng, a local on Ubin. The same man that claimed to be there when they transferred the lock of hair and the cross to the new temple. He has changed his testimony about the girl several times over the years. From claiming that the girls parents were dutch. But seeing that Dutch citizens were not interned as Netherland was neutral during WWI, the story changed to German instead. Could it have just been a glip of details? Or a more elaborate story? As late as 2004, he claimed to not know anything about her at all. 

Although proof that a German family ran a coffee plantation there once, it is not proven that they ran it until being detained because of the war. According to The Singapore and Straits Directory, the only plantation on the island in 1914, was run by an Anglo-Irish, with no women recorded as living there.  

The first mention of the grave on the island was actually in 1985, in a Malayan newspaper that told the story of a princess from Java that fled to the island and died there. She was said to haunt the hill as a hantu puteri, meaning a ghost princess, seducing the many quarry workers to meet a terrible fate. The article included a picture of the shrine today known as the German girl shrine. But also this article as well as the story itself lacks proper sourcers. 

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References

Featured image: Unknown original source/via Tineye

Unravelling the Mystery of Ubin’s German Girl Shrine

German Girl Shrine 

Mysterious Pulau Ubin German girl shrine still sees visitors after 100 years in existence – Mothership.SG – News from Singapore, Asia and around the world

The Legend of a German Deity at Ubin | Remember Singapore

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