Bukit Brown Cemetery, Singapore: Where Nature and Heritage Collide

It’s not every day I visit a cemetery for fun, but Bukit Brown Cemetery is not your average graveyard.

Graves in the Forest

Abandoned in the 1970s, this cemetery, the largest Chinese cemetery outside China, became overgrown and forested in places, migratory birds stopped over and the graveyard turned into a lush, green, nature-lovers’ paradise. Imagine Bukit Brown without the graves, and it could be a nature reserve. Add the old Chinese graves, many with intricate stone carvings or tiled walls, and you have a rich cultural treasure.

Why should I rush to Bukit Brown now?

Bukit Brown Cemetery is under threat. Singapore government plans will create a massive eight-lane highway cutting right through the middle of the cemetery, destroying the natural value of the landscape and removing many graves.

The planned road signs

The planned road is shown on signs around the cemetery with graves staked for exhumation behind.

Graves that are in the way of the road development plans have been marked with stakes for exhumation, and people with ancestors buried at Bukit Brown are already coming forward to claim the remains. Graves must be claimed by the end of December 2012 or they will be exhumed by the government starting next year.

After that, the bulldozers will roll in, and Bukit Brown will have a road to lower journey times by a few seconds as compared to the current existing road that runs around the cemetery. Future plans and proposals include further development of the area for expensive housing.

Guard statue

Statues like this guard some of the graves.

What can I see or do at Bukit Brown?

The threat of destruction has led to an increased interest in the cemetery by local people. All Things Bukit Brown offers tours of Bukit Brown, looking at the graves of some well-known figures, as well as their style and design. Don’t worry if you’re not a local. I attended a tour and learnt a lot about Chinese Singaporean culture and heritage. If you’re interested in finding out about the cemetery, I recommend going on a free tour to see a completely different side to Singapore from the usual tourist attractions.

Alternatively you can visit Bukit Brown alone and enjoy a pleasant wander across the five hills that form the cemetery. A small river runs through the middle of the valley, which contributes to the good feng shui. This was one of the reasons for the original selection of the site as a cemetery. A marshy area surrounds the river, and further up the hills on each side it becomes forested.

River and marshy areaYou can see graves that are still tended by relatives of the dead, with leftover offerings, as well as overgrown long-abandoned graves. Some feature photographs of the dead, and the different grave designs and inscriptions are interesting. Although most are in Chinese, there are graves with English writing as well.

Can I do anything to Stop the Road Development?

The SOS Bukit Brown website offers advice on how to get involved, from signing the petition to letter-writing and spreading awareness.