NDP@Bukit Brown: Majullah!1
The Bukit Brown community marked this year’s National Day with our own NDP where we remembered and honored our Nation’s Deceased Pioneers (NDP). We enjoyed the Heritage, Habitat and History that is Bukit Brown, the resting place of our pioneers!
And what is an NDP without goodie bags? We prepared 50 bags which contained items which are weighted with memory.
What goes into the Goody Bag? Items of significance, of emotional and heritage value with a story behind each item.
Here are some highlights.
The Tan Quee Lan cluster of tombs at hill 4, plot numbers 1217, 1218 & 1220 is being restored by two cousins who met for the first time in March this year at Bukit Brown after Raymond Goh found the graves. Tan Lak Tho a.k.a LT runs the pioneer brand name “Eagle” medicated oil, a formula and trade mark which his grandfather Tan Jim Lay bought from a chemist just before the 60s. The grandfather of his cousin, Serene Tan, is Tan Jim Seng. Their grandfathers were brothers and grandsons of TQL. Both never knew about the TQL cluster of graves in Bukit Brown which were reinterred from the family burial ground, Sin Tiong at Tiong Bahru in 1941. Serene designed and contributed the goody bag and LT, his grandfather’s medicated oil. For more on their story and how they met read Serendipity by Serene.
The humble matchstick was a vital necessity in the early years. It helped build up the fortunes of one Lee Kim Soo, whose spectacular tombstone was uncovered earlier this year by the Bukit Brown brownies. The clearance of what has become one of BB’s iconic tombs was spearheaded by Rosalind Tan, who rallied the tomb keepers. The matches were used to light the tea candle in the bag at any tomb to be honoured.
The tradition of coloured paper to remember ancestors goes back to China. It is said an Emperor returns after many years at war. The first thing he wanted to do was to pay his respects to his parents. Like Bukit Brown, their graves had been embraced by nature. So he looked to divine intervention and threw paper in all 5 directions, and where the paper landed and stayed would be the resting place of his parents. In the goody bag is a “novelty” you will recognise immediately as one way to symbolically observe this tradition. You are invited to do so for any tomb.
To mark National Day, we drop by the tombs of a few prominent pioneers which are slated to be exhumed. This was your chance to brush up on your history and general knowledge, find a tomb and answer quiz questions to win a prize. We provide matches and a candle to light out of respect.
1063: Ho Siak Kuan: He was the Chief Chinese Translator for the Straits Settlement Government and when he retired eventually in 1926-1927 period, he was in the government service for 42 years. He was the highest ranking Chinese civil servant in the British service. This man from Raffles Institution was buried in a place of honour.
1005: Tan Boon Hak. A wealthy timber merchant and the cousin of noted philanthropist Tan Kah Kee. He died in April 1923, and was one of the first to be buried at the cemetery. He supported the revolutionary cause, as seen in the tomb design which features the five-coloured flag representing the Mongolians, Manchurians, Muslims, Hans and Tibetans. Read more here.
1061A: Tan Huck Wan. A gifted sportsman from Anglo-Chinese School, he was the main labour contractor for the Singapore Harbour Board. He married on 7 Sept 1939 in a very traditional but grand affair. His bride from Penang was adorned with $100,000 worth of jewelry. Possibly died during Japanese Occupation as a prisoner of war.
1838: Wee Chim Yean. He was Capitan China or Kapitan China of Bengkalis. Bengkalis is a place is the Riau archipelago off east coast Sumatra Islands. There are many tombs in Bukit Brown that demonstrate Singapore’s trade links at a time maritime trade flourished. On his grave are the inscriptions 甲政 = (Captain) and 和国 = Holland.
1919: See Tiong Wah. He was educated in St. Joseph’s Institution and joined his father’s bank has an assistant in 1901 and eventually succeeded him as the Camprodore of Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Corporation in 1909. He was also very active in public activities and eventually went on to become a Justice of Peace (J.P) and Senior Municipal Commissioner. Together with Tan Kheam Hock, he is credited with the formation of Bukit Brown as a Municipal Cemetery. His tomb panels are exquisite.
1906: Khoo Kay Hian. He made his fortunes during the rubber boom of the 1910 as a commodities broker. He went on to found one of the best-known stock broking firm in Singapore. He supported the Revolutionary cause.
1930: Lim Kim Seng. His tomb is inscribed with the title M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire) and J.P. (Justice of Peace), not an ordinary man. He was also a community leader for the Teochews. The cluster of family tombs stands out for the beauty and simplicity.
2536: Khoo Seok Wan. A poet, a Confucian scholar, a political activist in revolutionary China, a prominent community leader in Singapore and an early advocate for education for girls who helped set up the Singapore Chinese Girls School.
Along the way, we pointed out tombs with interesting histories and designs, the Chinese diaspora who made up the fabric of early Singapore, all pioneers in their own right even if these are lesser-known.
This event was organized to celebrate the pioneering work of our ancestors. All things Bukit Brown thanks all participants who made this a success! Raymond Goh, who inspired the founding of all things Bukit Brown, is never far from our minds, and Bukit Brown is never far from his even when he is traveling: