Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Observing All Saints Day/All Souls Day via a Bukit Brown Heritage Walk...
I went for my second heritage walk at Bukit Brown last Sunday. It was the weekend for All Saints Day and All Souls Day and I thought, "What could be a better way to observe both days than by doing a walk at the cemetery?" Hehe! Luckily, Kok Kuan told me about the heritage walk.
Just to refresh, Bukit Brown is the old Chinese cemetery located between Lornie Road and Mount Plesant Road. It was the final resting place of many Hokkiens and Teochews between the 1920s up until its closure in 1973. Close to 100,000 tombs are found in the cemetery. Today, Bukit Brown Cemetery is in danger of being cleared for site redevelopment. A huge section will be affected by plans for a highway that will cut across the cemetery. Given the rich cultural and historical significance of the cemetery, a group of Singaporeans organised themselves in an effort to "Save Bukit Brown."
Going back to the weekend heritage walk, I initially thought it was going to be similar to the first one I went for along with Kok Kuan and his friend Norman. After the brief intro given by one of the Bukit Brown volunteers, I was excited that the tour will cover other hills of the cemetery and newly discovered tombs. Mr. Raymond Goh led the tour. He is probably the most dedicated, most committed guy to doing research about Bukit Brown.
During the first tour that I joined, most of the tombs we visited were of notable Peranakans since the tour was conducted for the Peranakan Society (I think).
This time, the tombs we visited were of different individuals who contributed to Singapore history. Perhaps the most interesting for me this time was visiting the graves of Wee Keng Yeow and his wife. The tomb is still well-maintained. What was interesting for me was learning that Mr. Wee Keng Yeow was the local founder of the Tian It Remittance Agency.
As a person who's very much familiar with "remittances," I thought it was quite interesting to learn about the earliest remittance centres in the island. Tian It was one of the most popular and was in operation at the turn of the century.
At that time, coolies and workers went to remittance centres to send letters and money back to their families in China. Tian It Pue Kuan was one of the most popular with 33 branches in China and 7 branches in Southeast Asia including Singapore and if I heard correctly, the Philippines!!!
The second interesting thing about the whole tour was that so much can be learned from just looking at the markers and the design of the tombs. It can tell you the family history, the town of origin, which dialect group he/she belonged to, the number of children/grandchildren the person had, the number of wives, to name a few. The carvings and other features of the tomb such as sculptures of deities, guardians, Sikh guards, angels add more to the story.
Lastly, I also learned during this tour was that Bukit Brown was actually one of the battle sites during World War II. In fact, one of the more popular tours is the battlefield tour conducted by archaeologist Jon Cooper. Mr. Cooper did a thorough study on the fighting that happened in the area between the Japanese and the local residents defending Singapore.
Because of Bukit Brown's significance in Singapore history, it is no surprise why many groups are committed to raise awareness on Bukit Brown so that hopefully, it will be left on its own in peace.