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ST Forum
Oct 19, 2011

Keep Bukit Brown graves: Descendants

THE consequence of the decision by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to clear Bukit Brown Cemetery to make way for a highway and future housing developments is an irreplaceable loss to generations of Singaporeans ('Redevelopment plans for Bukit Brown site', Sept 13; and Forum letter 'Rethink road widening affecting cemetery' by Mr Liew Kai Khiun, Sept 16).

Indeed much of the historical and social value of Bukit Brown Cemetery is still being uncovered by volunteers today, yet preparations for clearing works are slated to start next month. The latest tender suggests that 24ha (10,000 graves) will be affected in the heart of the cemetery. This, we understand, is just the beginning.

Despite URA and LTA's assertions that they will work with the Singapore Heritage Society and other stakeholders to identify and document key heritage elements, it appears that this refers to mere 'data recording', and not a heritage study.

It is not widely known that the Bukit Brown, Ong clan and Hokkien Huay Kuan cluster form the biggest Chinese burial grounds outside China, with a quarter of a million graves.

The erasure of these grounds will deal a substantial blow to the cultural history of Singapore.

The graves contain our immigrant forebears, from paupers to almost all our local pioneers who remain largely unrecognised beyond the roads that bear their names, such as Ong Boon Tat, Cheong Koon Seng, Cheang Hong Lim, Chew Joo Chiat, Lim Chong Pang and Chew Boon Lay; and the wife of philanthropist Lim Nee Soon.

Each tomb tells of a journey from a village in China, their families, their achievements and their culture.

Stories discerned from the graves will no longer be accessible to future generations.

As descendants of Singapore's early pioneers, we appeal to the authorities to explore alternatives like widening existing roads or using flyovers to preserve this national heritage.

It is not too late to recognise that Bukit Brown is rich with 'living' possibility and multi-uses - not just for those who pay respects to ancestors but also as a place for learning and recreation.

Here is where creative lessons in biology, bird-watching, history, genealogy, art and poetry could take place as well as serious research. To take a quiet walk with family or tour with the passionate guides is to be moved by our history and feel truly connected with this place we call our home.

Let us not squander our heritage and dishonour our past for a few more condos and cars. Once we bulldoze through this history, it will be too late to resurrect the foundation of our national sense of identity.

Chew I-Jin (Ms)

Descendant of Chew Boon Lay

FORUM NOTE: The other signatories are Mr Chew Kheng Chuan (descendant of Chew Boon Lay), Mr Gerald Tan Kok Seng (descendant of Tan Tock Seng), Mr Chia Hock Jin (descendant of Chia Hood Theam) and Ms Ong Chwee Im, representing the descendants of Ong Chong Chew, Ong Ewe Hai and Ong Kew Hoe, who donated the land for use of the Ong clan in 1872).

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