SINGAPORE Nov 27 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 centre 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
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.
On the headstone of community leader Tan Boon Liat's grave
are 12 rays of sunlight, showing his longtime association with
Sun Yat Sen's Kuomintang whose logo is a white sun with twelve
rays on a blue background.
Tan, who died in the 1930s, was a great grandson of
philanthropist Tan Tock Seng, for whom one of Singapore's
largest hospitals is named.
"If there is any Singapore site that is worthy of UNESCO
nomination, it is Bukit Brown," said Bukit Brown Community's
Goh, referring to the United Nations body whose Heritage Site
designations are keenly sought for the boost they can give to
In 1998, the Singapore government announced a policy to
limit the burial period to 15 years. Bodies are then dug up and
either cremated or interred in small plots to save space in the
case of Muslims and other groups whose religions require
"The above measures have helped to intensify the land use at
the cemetery and overcome our land constraints," a spokeswoman
for the National Environment Agency said.
Term limits for graves are even stricter in Hong Kong, which
requires the removal of bodies from public cemeteries after six
years. If families do not remove the remains, authorities will
exhume and cremate them, burying the ashes in a communal grave.
Singapore's environment agency says more people are opting
for cremation over burial, with the proportion rising from 66
percent in 1992 to 80 percent in 2011. That is nearly the entire
population if those whose religions require burial are excluded.
Ang Jolie, funeral director at Ang Yew Seng Funeral Parlour,
whose customers are mostly Chinese, who make up about 75 percent
of Singapore's population, said the need to remove the body
after 15 years is the main reason why many opt for cremation.
"The younger generation is more pragmatic and they may not
want to trouble the future generations with the exhumation," she
(Reporting by Kevin Lim and Eveline Danubrata, editing by