Welcome to a.t.Bukit Brown, which stands for “all things Bukit Brown” and which seeks to promote greater awareness of the area as a living heritage site which encompasses history, culture, tradition, nature and personal stories unique to Singapore. It is envisioned as a resource which can be used as a launching pad for further discovery.
In particular, it was conceived as an educational tool for students and teachers to self-guide. We find it a pity that schools organise history tours to other countries but have long neglected history in their own backyard. Many founders of local schools, as well as renowned alumni, are buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery. We are proud to feature downloadable lessons on conservation, sustainable development and culture crafted by teachers.
In the words of Dr Hui Yew-Foong who is leading a team of trained volunteers tasked with documenting the grave sites affected by the proposed construction of a highway in 2013:
“Every grave here is important. Every grave tells a story and every story is worth recording and taking down. We want to reconstruct what life was like in this place in the past; what the social life was like and what was the cultural life.”
Through this blog, we would like to invite the community to share their stories of Bukit Brown in every aspect – be it the search for their ancestors, a space for meditation, for recreation, for inspiration.
We hope to “map out” your special spots and capture as many stories to post here about the people buried in the tombs which have been located. The main section, In Memoriam, will feature those buried here, including ancestors recently re-discovered by their descendants, as well as pioneers of Singapore identified by amateur historian Raymond Goh.
Bukit Brown has rich flora and fauna. Almost one-quarter of the bird species in Singapore rest and nest here. These include the Great Racket-tailed Drongo, the Banded Woodpecker, the Long-tailed Parakeet, the Red-crowned Barbet, the Lanced Woodpecker, the Changeable Hawk Eagle, Nightjars, and the usual Myna, Pink-necked Pigeon, Starling, Swiftlet.
The Nature Society regularly conducts bird-watching and nature walks. a.t. Bukit Brown will be posting a calendar of events taking place at Bukit Brown, from Do-it-Yourself Tours to bike tours and nature walks. Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any events you want to organize and we will help publicise it.
We have had events to mark cultural festivals, such as Winter Solstice better known as “tang yuan” festival on Dec 22, and social gatherings such as a fun run/cycle on Dec 26 to work off Christmas indulgences. (postscript : the run/cycle did not materialise because we spent too much time catching up on stories and the food was too good. Photo proof here)
On Saturday, December 10, we had a busy day at Bukit Brown. Millie Phuah, a volunteer videographer, set up her camera under a beautiful blue sky and interviewed Jo Prudence, a descendant of George Henry Brown for whom the Cemetery is named; Vicky Tan, a descendent of Tan Kheam Hock; and Rosalind Tan, a feisty Nonya who lives Peranakan traditions and has restored her grandparents’ graves.
At a.t.Bukit Brown, we are pushing for awareness that the age-old paradigm of our heritage giving way to development can change. Although the documentation process has started in full swing, we do not see this as documentation in expectation of destruction but documentation in expectation of conservation.
This blog is a voluntary community effort, which carries with it the heart of Bukit Brown, with the understanding that it means different things to different people and may yet mean something more to people for whom Bukit Brown had never existed. Bukit Brown is more than “just” a cemetery. It is a living archive. Instead of leafing through the pages of a book or trawling through digitized records, you can walk the grounds and meet strangers and share their stories. Combining all available resources – library archives, personal mementoes, oral history, your own observations on the ground – you will make your own discoveries. Come journey with us.
“Over half of the 20 million migrants who left China from 1840 to 1940 passed through Singapore. Many of them chose to live and work in Singapore.
“Singapore is thus a critical site in understanding all aspects of the history of the Chinese diaspora. This, in turn will help us to understand the important role of Singapore in the history of Asia over the last two hundred years.
“The graves at Bukit Brown are an important historical resource that can be found in few other parts of Asia, and in none that are so central as Singapore. It is greatly desirable that they can be preserved.”
Associate Professor of History
He is currently working on a history of globalization since 1760. He has written on Chinese Emigration in Global Context, 1850-1940.