Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

January 2018

Yahoo News Singapore by Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
19 January 2018

Unclaimed cremated remains from parts of the Bukit Brown and Seh Ong cemeteries will be scattered at sea on April 26 this year, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) wrote in a series of final notices posted on national broadsheets.

As of 12 January, remains from about 3,400 out of 4,700 graves – exhumed from both cemeteries between January and December 2014 to make way for the construction of Lornie Highway – have not been claimed, said an LTA spokesman on Wednesday (17 January) in response to queries by Yahoo News Singapore.

These remains were not claimed by descendants or next-of-kin at the time of exhumation and during the storage period of three years, according to the notice published last Friday in The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao.

(A notice by the LTA published in Lianhe Zaobao on 12 January, 2018. SOURCE: Raymond Goh/Facebook)

Those who wish to claim the cremated remains of their ancestors have been asked to submit their claims by 12 April. They can contact the LTA at 63962500 or feedback@lta.gov.sg for details on the submission of claims.

The LTA said it will arrange for a brief religious ceremony to offer prayers before scattering the ashes at sea.

Groups and individuals have called for alternative measures, such as building a memorial that houses the unclaimed cremated remains.

Chua Ai Lin, vice president of non-profit Singapore Heritage Society, called the suggestion “timely”, and one that the group, together with members of the public and the Bukit Brown community, had proposed “a few years back”.

As “some of the earliest graves exhumed to make way for the highway date back to as early as the 1830s, less than 20 years after the founding of Singapore by Raffles”, a memorial would allow “current and future generations to pay their respects and remember the contributions of what remains of the earliest pioneer generation”, explained Chua.

A memorial would play a big role in allowing the closure of a “chapter in (one’s) family history”, said Catherine Lim, a volunteer with All Things Bukit Brown, a community group that conducts regular guided walks for the public in the Bukit Brown area.

“The possibility that descendants may still come forth should not be discounted,” added Lim.

Dr Terence Heng, lecturer in sociology at the University of Liverpool, who was part of a research team that documented the Bukit Brown cemetery, noted that building a memorial “would be an excellent gesture on the part of LTA”.

“The memorial for Bukit Brown could be simple, placed near the recently relocated gates, listing the individuals who had ‘given up’ their space for the living,” he added.

Plagued by delays

The construction of Lornie Highway, which was announced in September 2011, was delayed twice due to various reasons, including financial difficulties faced by its main contractor and a public exhumation exercise that completed a year later than projected.

First slated to be completed by 2016, and then end-2017, the development of the dual four-lane road also faced strong objections from heritage groups and members of the public.

Set to connect MacRitchie Viaduct to Adam Flyover, it affected parts of the Bukit Brown and Seh Ong cemeteries, which had been closed off to burial since the early 1970s and were areas deemed to have rich heritage value.

Lornie Highway will now be progressively opened from the third quarter of this year, starting with the southbound highway towards Adam Flyover, said the LTA in a press release issued in November last year.

The northbound highway towards MacRitchie Viaduct will open in the first quarter of 2019.

The road is expected to alleviate congestion along Lornie Road and the Pan-Island Expressway during peak hours.

Back in 2011, LTA said that “traffic demand along Lornie Road is expected to increase between 20 per cent and 30 per cent by 2020 and well beyond what the current Lornie Road will be able to handle”.

Channel News Asia
14 Jan 2018
by Terence Heng

In land-scarce Singapore where taller columbaria have replaced cemeteries that used to take up large tracts of land, the University of Liverpool’s Terence Heng discusses if we’ve lost something in the process.

The filial come back every year to do their duty. (Photo: Terence Heng)

SINGAPORE: When I tell people that part of my research involves photographing exhumations in cemeteries and their accompanying rituals, the inevitable question I get is: “Have you seen or felt anything?”

To be honest, I have not.

However, I once thought I heard a child crying outside my bedroom. Thinking that something had finally followed me home, I jumped out of bed to confront the spectre.

It turned out to be my foster cat, throwing up under the dining table. I almost wished it had been a ghost.

Aside from ghostly-feline shenanigans, the time I spent in Bukit Brown Cemetery between 2011 and 2014 has shown me just how alive cemeteries can be.

As part of the team documenting the social and cultural life of the cemetery, I was witness to a multitude of rituals, festivals, events, memories and emotions.

Many of these memories and emotions were personified in the determination of the people I met along the way.

Take for example Qing Ming Jie – the Chinese version of All Saints Day, when families gather to pay respects to their ancestors.

I once photographed a man who went by Mr Taijuddin, who now mostly resides in Indonesia. At the age of 73, he still climbed the slippery, moss-covered slopes in business shoes and a long-sleeved shirt to do his filial duty.


The ability to be physically close to a grave is one advantage that cemeteries have over columbaria. Even if you paid for a niche at eye-level, there is nothing quite like having your own space to say a few words or conduct religious rites.

Cemeteries also provide a more personal way of interacting with loved ones.

Cemeteries afford a certain kind of personal space for families to gather and remember. (Photo: Terence Heng)

One friend commented that when visiting his grandmother’s niche, he was never sure if she could “receive” his offerings on the ground since her ashes placed were far above eye-level. Waving his hands, he mimicked pushing the spiritual essence of offerings up, saying “we hope ah ma gets these lah”.

The destruction of cemeteries has become a contentious issue in Singapore. What was once a norm to see entire swathes of graves cleared for malls, MRT depots and housing estates can be a fiercely contentious issue, especially for those that have significant cultural and historical value, like Bukit Brown Cemetery.

More recent exercises like the Government’s plans to clear 80,000 graves to make way for Tengah Air Base’s expansion have been met with a range of reactions, from a mere shrug to disappointment that national development is coming at a cost to the dead.

Many argue that cemeteries are impractical – there is no way to leave that much space for the dead when the living are already squeezed into ever smaller pigeon holes.

We are told that we cannot be sentimental, that we must be pragmatic.

In place of cemeteries we have ever-more intensifying columbaria, designed to accommodate the most number of remains using the least amount of space. The recent announcement of a funeral complex in Bidadari to replace the columbarium complex at Mount Vernon is an example of this.

Such arguments and actions are less about cemeteries, and more about what constitutes a “useful” and “efficient” space – planners are always looking for ways to make spaces more livable, effective and beneficial to the population. Dead bodies and remains don’t seem to figure in this equation.

Maybe all people need are simple places to sit and reflect. (Photo: Terence Heng)

The other side of the argument is that cemeteries are alive with memories, rituals and personal stories, that they are an important connection to our past in ways that single memorials or buildings could never act as.

Again, these are less about cemeteries and more about what makes a space meaningful, and what kinds of spaces can anchor us to our social, cultural and national identities.

Both sides of the argument make good points. We have limited land but to eliminate seemingly inefficiently used spaces that are material anchors leaves us empty and undefined. What then do we do?


We can begin by not seeing cemeteries (or indeed any space that houses the dead) as places that are spiritually off-limits or set-aside for most of the year.

Colloquially speaking, they cannot be framed as “dirty”, "inefficient" or "useless" spaces.

Intensifying a columbaria suggests that we see no use for such spaces other than a repository and somewhere to visit once or twice a year.

To do this, it means we need to collectively think of and talk about death more candidly. As long as death is taboo, so too will be the spaces associated with death.

Death needs to, in millennial-speak, be disrupted in ways that allow us to more fully engage with it as a process of life.

If we go ahead and clear all cemeteries, the alternative needs to be more imaginative than simply stacking us one on top of the other in the easiest and most cost-effective way possible. By this I do not mean fancy air-conditioned country-club style designs with lasers.

Rather, constructing spaces that encourage contemplation and give a sense of refuge would be a good start. Somewhere we can think about what life really means to us, far away from the hustle and bustle of life, as we take time to visit those who have gone before us.

Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/commentary-cemeteries-should-be-more-than-where-the-dead-reside-9834742

Jan 3, 2018 by Uptake Media

‘Singh In The Lion City’ is a short documentary about a Singaporean Sikh man's personal quest to decode his cultural identity. This sets him on a journey of self-discovery along a shared heritage trail - which he encapsulates and celebrates via the creation of an app. This documentary touches on wider themes of migration and diaspora.

Producer/Director/Editor: Upneet Kaur-Nagpal
Cinematographer: Jeremy Mackie
Sound: Visioninc.
Special Thanks: Ishvinder Singh, Vithya Subramaniam, Claire Leow + Paramjeet Singh

Video Trailer Link :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-SPg9Oyx9g

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