When we first moved (which was over FIVE YEARS AGO!) Bukit Brown cemetery was very prominent in the news, as it had been announced that the peaceful Chinese cemetery was going to be bisected by a highway. Given the space constraints of Singapore many cemeteries have been ‘re-purposed’ (i.e. they’ve been dug up) over the years. There were cemeteries along Orchard Road where Ngee Ann City stands today. Fort Canning Green, where you can bring a picnic and sip wine whilst watching Shakespeare performed, housed a Christian cemetery, as did the site where KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital stands today. Further up the road from KK there was a Jewish cemetery where the Velocity shopping mall now stands.
All of these cemeteries disappeared without protest, but Bukit Brown was different and saw the establishment of many conservation groups keen to preserve the cemetery and its history. To cut a long story short 5000 graves were exhumed and the road is being built, but the upside of the Bukit Brown story is that it reignited interest in the cemetery. Since 2011 the ‘Brownies’ have led small tour groups around the cemetery, and taking part in one of these has been on my Bucket List ever since. It only took just under 5 years but I finally made it to one of the Brownies tours.
I’ve already forgotten much of what I heard on my tour, so will have to do another but the tour covered some of the more prominent tombs and also a little bit about Chinese tomb culture. We saw some of the beautiful Peranakan tiles as well as the very grand tomb of Ong Sam Leong. Interestingly, the tombs of people who died during the Japanese Occupation had the Japanese year in which they died (which differed to the Roamn calendar).
There’s lots to love about Bukit Brown. The cemetery is very large and the vegetation grows incredibly fast so new tombs are being ‘found’ all the time. The Brownies are all volunteers and all have different aspects of Bukit Brown in which they are interested, so each tour is different. If you wish to book one of the Brownie’s tours you can find them on Peatix here. If you aren’t keen on organised tours then anyone is free to wander around the cemetery, but to be considerate avoid the Qing Ming period where people are visiting the tombs of the ancestors.