Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

November 2012

Nov 27, 2012

No eternal rest for the dead in crowded Singapore

By Kevin Lim and Eveline Danubrata

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Eternal peace does not last long in Singapore.

Starting early next year, workers with heavy machinery will begin constructing an eight-lane highway across the small country's oldest surviving major cemetery, overriding the objections of nature lovers and heritage buffs.

Singapore, with its 5.3 million people crammed onto an island less than half the size of London, is already more densely populated than rival Asian business center Hong Kong, making permanent burial space unfeasible.

The whole of Bukit Brown - the resting place of more than 100,000 people, including some of Singapore's pioneering business and clan leaders and their large, intricately carved tombs - will eventually be used for residential development. At least 30 people buried there have streets named after them.

Some families have begun removing the remains of their ancestors, and authorities plan to dig up the remaining graves in January.

But Nature Society (Singapore) and other groups want Bukit Brown left alone, describing the forested area as "a natural and historical treasure trove". Another body, the Bukit Brown Community, has been conducting weekly tours to raise awareness of the area's rich past.

"There is no other cemetery like Bukit Brown. The amount of historical information that we can find there and the amount of Chinese culture, heritage and custom is unique," said Raymond Goh, a founding member of Bukit Brown Community.

Photographer Shawn Danker, who recently held a photo exhibition to generate awareness about Bukit Brown, cites as an example pre-independent Singapore's links to the Nationalists who overthrew the Ching Dynasty in 1911.

On the headstone of community leader Tan Boon Liat's grave are 12 rays of sunlight, showing his longtime association with Sun Yat Sen's Kuomintang whose logo is a white sun with twelve rays on a blue background.

Tan, who died in the 1930s, was a great grandson of philanthropist Tan Tock Seng, for whom one of Singapore's largest hospitals is named.

"If there is any Singapore site that is worthy of UNESCO nomination, it is Bukit Brown," said Bukit Brown Community's Goh, referring to the United Nations body whose Heritage Site designations are keenly sought for the boost they can give to tourism.

In 1998, the Singapore government announced a policy to limit the burial period to 15 years. Bodies are then dug up and either cremated or interred in small plots to save space in the case of Muslims and other groups whose religions require burials.

"The above measures have helped to intensify the land use at the cemetery and overcome our land constraints," a spokeswoman for the National Environment Agency said.

Term limits for graves are even stricter in Hong Kong, which requires the removal of bodies from public cemeteries after six years. If families do not remove the remains, authorities will exhume and cremate them, burying the ashes in a communal grave.

Singapore's environment agency says more people are opting for cremation over burial, with the proportion rising from 66 percent in 1992 to 80 percent in 2011. That is nearly the entire population if those whose religions require burial are excluded.

Ang Jolie, funeral director at Ang Yew Seng Funeral Parlour, whose customers are mostly Chinese, who make up about 75 percent of Singapore's population, said the need to remove the body after 15 years is the main reason why many opt for cremation.

"The younger generation is more pragmatic and they may not want to trouble the future generations with the exhumation," she added.


ST News
Nov 26, 2012

Teochew pioneer's grave found in Toa Payoh

Brothers find grave of Seah Eu Chin after a year of painstaking search

By rachael boon

Tombstone hunter siblings Charles (left) and Raymond Goh discovered the grave of Seah Eu Chin - the founder of early Teochew clan association Ngee Ann Kongsi - last week on Grave Hill. -- ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

THE grave of early Teochew pioneer Seah Eu Chin - situated on a hill known as Grave Hill in Toa Payoh West, adjacent to Bukit Brown - has been discovered by two tombstone hunters, brothers Raymond and Charles Goh.

They found the grave last week after a year-long search.

Seah was born in 1805 in Yupu village, Chaozhou province, and came to Singapore in 1823. He built his fortune as the owner of gambier plantations in areas such as Thomson and came to be known as the King of Gambier. He was an early member of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, and founded early Teochew clan association Ngee Ann Kongsi in 1845 with a group of Teochew merchants. He died in 1883.

His son, Seah Liang Seah, was also a prominent member of society. He was municipal commissioner and ran his father's businesses, which included spice trading. Liang Seah Street was named after him.

Seah Eu Chin's grave is the latest among those of Singapore pioneers to have been discovered recently. The tomb of landowner Chia Ann Siang, after whom Ann Siang Hill is named, was discovered in September this year. The tombs of Tan Keong Saik, whom Keong Saik Street in Chinatown is named after, and Tan Eng Neo, whom Eng Neo Avenue is named after, were discovered last year at Bukit Brown Cemetery off Lornie Road. The Goh brothers, who have been exploring tombs since 2006, were also involved in those discoveries.

On how the search began for Seah's grave, Raymond, 48, a licensed specialist tourist guide with the Singapore Tourism Board, said: "Last November, a classmate of mine read about our discoveries of pioneers buried at Bukit Brown, and e-mailed me to ask if I knew where Seah Eu Chin was buried and if I could take some of the Seah descendants to visit the tomb."

He began his search that very month at Bukit Brown by finding out if any of Seah's family members were buried there.

"The breakthrough came when I found the grave of Mrs Seah Eng Kun, who died in 1929, at Bukit Brown. Her husband Seah Eng Kun was the son of Cheo Seah, the eldest son of Seah Eu Chin. From the tombstone, I could determine the generation name used for the Seah family, and in turn, learn Seah Eu Chin's generation name," he said.

He was referring to the Chinese practice whereby family members of the same generation use the same characters in their names. Knowing the generation name, which was certified in an imperial edict he found, helped him confirm that the grave he found on Grave Hill belonged to Seah Eu Chin.

Raymond and Charles, 44, later found a Straits Times obituary that described Seah Eu Chin's funeral procession, from his home in North Boat Quay to his plantation in Thomson Road, about 4.8km away from town.

That is where Grave Hill is, according to a 1924 map, said Raymond, and that is where they found the grave. They identified it by his generation name She Bang Cong (his name in Mandarin), his birthplace, the names of his two wives who were buried next to him, and other inscriptions on the tomb. It was previously reported in The Straits Times in 2009 that Seah Eu Chin's grave was found in Kwong Hou Sua Teochew Cemetery, but Raymond believes that belonged to a Seah descendant.

Seah Eu Chin's grave is about a 10-minute walk up the hill, and is covered with overgrown grass and shrubs. The brothers have cleared a path leading up to the grave.

Said Dr Hui Yew-Foong, 40, an anthropologist at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and the appointed documentarian of Bukit Brown Cemetery: "This grave is of the same level of historical significance as the graves of Tan Tock Seng and Tan Kim Ching, and therefore serves as an invaluable part of Singapore's heritage."

He said Grave Hill will not be affected by the Land Transport Authority plans to build a four- lane dual carriageway through Bukit Brown Cemetery to alleviate peak hour congestion on Lornie Road.

However, the Goh brothers are concerned, as the hill is close to the upcoming $8billion North- South Expressway.

Said Charles, who also is a licensed specialist tourist guide: "If this hill is redeveloped like Bukit Brown, it will mean the change of Singapore's heritage landscape, which can be told through the tombs of people such as Seah Eu Chin."

Mr Jeffrey Seah, 55, a direct descendant of Seah Eu Chin,learnt about the discovery from his first cousin's wife in Australia, who is in touch with the Gohs.

Seah Eu Chin is his greatgreat-great-grandfather.

The director of the Security Industry Institute said: "Very few people know about them, and parts of our history don't go back to the early founders - the people who laid the foundation for Singapore, prior to Lim Yew Hock's and David Marshall's time. They should do something to conserve the site, it's a rare discovery."

A panel from the tombstone. -- ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG


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