Update (10 Oct 2013): Statement on listing of Bukit Brown in 2014 World Monuments Watch published!
Update (20 Jan 2013): Celebrating Bukit Brown @ The Substation
Update (5 Feb 2012): Position Paper on Bukit Brown published!
On 12 September 2011, the Land Transport Authority, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the National Parks Board announced a new dual four-lane road in Bukit Brown, with construction to begin in the first quarter of 2013. According to their joint press statement, the new road will “alleviate the congestion currently experienced along Lornie Road and the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) during peak hours and to cater to expected growth in future traffic demand.” This planned road “will connect the existing Thomson Road near Caldecott Hill and will cut through parts of the existing Bukit Brown Cemetery before joining Adam Road near the slip roads leading onto PIE.”
The press statement also claims that the road could affect an estimated 5% of the 100,000 graves in the cemetery. The authorities also stated that they will not only conduct a grave identification exercise to ascertain the exact number of graves affected, but will also work with the Singapore Heritage Society to document “key heritage elements” of the cemetery.
Background to Bukit Brown
Bukit Brown cemetery is located in the central area of Singapore, bordering Lornie Road and parts of the Pan-Island Expressway. Currently defunct, it was established as a public burial ground for the Chinese in 1922. By 1929, the cemetery accounted for about 40% of all officially registered Chinese burials within municipal limits. In addition to prominent pioneers like Chew Boon Lay and Cheang Hong Lim, tens of thousands of ordinary migrants are also buried at Bukit Brown.
The presence of the graves – of both pioneer businessmen and ordinary people alike – enriches and democratises our Singapore Story. Bukit Brown also conveys significant historical knowledge, such as the provincial origins of the dead, the names of their descendants, as well as the tomb design, artistic embellishment and fengshui orientation. The sacredness of Bukit Brown can be found in the practices of people who continue to pay their respects to their ancestors in the form of ceremonial rituals as well as highly personalised ways. Such sacredness is not static or dead but embedded in the living habits of people.
The Society’s Position and Response
As a general principle, the Singapore Heritage Society opposes the destruction of heritage. Bearing in mind certain limitations Singapore has, the Society feels that any decisions taken which affects the heritage of Singapore must include due consideration of the relevant stakeholders and all possible conservation alternatives.
This is a process which must include a transparent account of the decision-making process to affected and interested parties. Such consultations should not be mere platforms for the authorities to convey decisions that have already been made or to justify such decisions. It must be a process where stakeholders have a clear and inclusive role to play.
The Society is heartened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech at the swearing-in of the new cabinet on 21 May 2011. He noted that “by engaging Singaporeans in an inclusive dialogue on making policies and governing Singapore, we can solve our problems better, and shape our new Singapore together”
As such, the Society has taken the following steps to increase public awareness of this issue:
- Society’s Position Paper (first online 5 Feb 2012)
- Society’s various statements on the issue
- Op-ed piece on Saving Bukit Brown (published in The Straits Times, 17 November 2011)
- Co-organised a public symposium on 19 November 2011
- Participating in the on-going documentation process
Moving forward, there are pertinent issues that are still not properly addressed, not least the impact of the road on the area’s physical and cultural heritage, and its ecological and environmental impact. The Society is open to working with all interested parties to document the heritage of Bukit Brown cemetery as well as to discuss innovative ways to preserve it in situ.
- New website: All Things Bukit Brown – Heritage.Habitat.History
- Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook group
- National Archives of Singapore Burial Registers
For more information on the Singapore Heritage Society’s efforts in addressing the Bukit Brown Cemetery issue, please contact us at email@example.com