No eternal rest for the dead in crowded Singapore

Tue Nov 27, 2012 2:02am EST
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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.   Continued...

A 50-year-old grave digger who only wants to be identified as Mr Sim walks on a path at a graveyard on his way to exhume a grave at the Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Edgar Su