Build a virtual Bukit Brown if preservation is not an option

ST Forum
Nov 1, 2011

Build a virtual Bukit Brown if preservation is not an option

I AGREE with Dr James Khoo when he describes the Bukit Brown Cemetery's gravestones as sculptural works of art and tablets of rich history ('Bukit Brown can be Singapore's Arlington'; Oct 24).

About 30 years ago, the Government required that all 100,000 graves at Peck San Theng Cemetery be exhumed to make way for the Bishan New Town development.

Apart from facilitating the affected families to work with HDB- appointed contractors on the exhumation, the Peck San Theng cemetery management committee formed a working group comprising 21 volunteers to document the graves of significance, including recording their title, location and erected date.

These were mainly clan graves, or resting places for the wandering souls who did not have family members to perform rituals of respect during the spring and autumn festivals.

The group spent more than a year combing through the 324 acre (131ha) cemetery, documenting and photographing a total of 291 clan graves.

This good deed led to the preservation of a complete and invaluable set of records on the lost Cantonese clan graves.

Two years ago, an examination of the photograph of the common grave for seven Cantonese heroes, collectively called 'Qi Jun Zi', clarified a century-old misconception about them.

Until then, the consensus was that these seven men had sacrificed their lives to protect the cemetery. Hence they had to be accorded respect during the spring and autumn festivals.

But from the gravestone of the seven heroes, we inferred that this common grave was transferred from another Cantonese cemetery and reinstalled at Peck San Theng in 1963.

More importantly, these men were killed in 1841, while Peck San Theng was established in 1870. Hence, the seven heroes were more likely to have sacrificed their lives to protect the interests of the Cantonese community during its early days, rather than to protect Peck San Theng.

This is only one example to illustrate the value of the gravestones. It would be best to preserve all the graves at Bukit Brown.

The second best would be to use the latest technology, something like Google Maps, to build a virtual Bukit Brown Cemetery to preserve the 'site' and literature of all the tombs of this historic place.

Dr Sam Kong San

FORUM NOTE: The writer was president of Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng, a columbarium that is managed by 16 Cantonese and Hakka clan associations.