Sunday, April 14, 2013

Unesco Heritage site bid - Why not Bukit Brown too?

The Straits Times finally picked up on what has been buzzing on the social media platforms for sometime now, and who knows, maybe (just maybe) the journalist, Tan Dawn Wei may even have read my earlier article, Bukit Brown, a UNESCO World Heritage site, published on April 02, 2013 or Raymond Goh's article, The forgotten heritage at our own backyard, published on March 28, 2013 where we argued that Bukit Brown would have qualified easily as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Straits Times, April 14, 2013. 
Whatever it is, i am very pleased that there is some renewed interest now in the mainstream media and also more publicity on the need to urgently include Bukit Brown and other sites (for example Tiong Bahru ) into Singapore's tentative listing for submission for UNESCO World Heritage site other than Botanic Gardens. This urgency as we all know is due to the threat of  the 8 lane highway that could potentially change Bukit Brown's landscape forever since its inception as a public cemetery in 1922 and that will also defy one of UNESCO's key criterion, the protection of land around the site - a buffer zone.  The other criterion by UNESCO requires a hard re-look by the Singapore government on its current stand on Bukit Brown, that is to stop the highway and protect the land by local law.

The final showcase to UNESCO is to demonstrate how Bukit Brown, since is closure is still meaningful to the community today. That to me can be seen in two aspects (1) the cultural practices that is still maintained till today  (2) the educational value and national education potential of a nation in infancy.

I will not talk about educational value and nation building or national education potential in this article (that can be demonstrated elsewhere) but rather i take the opportunity to share with you some of the photos i took today at Bukit Brown, the very day when this article by Straits Times went out and hopeful provide pictorial evidence of how meaningful this place is still.

Observations: Rich and poor, it doesn't matter
Some of tombs may not be grand (rich) and some are even located at the pauper section of Bukit Brown, but it doesn't matter as i see many evidences of ancestral remembrance, their descendants in their offerings made today during this Qing Ming Period (tomb sweeping period or all souls day).
Simple, yet not forgotten


Not forgotten 

Not forgotten

Observations: Old with new practices
Qingming practices are passed on from one generation to the next with its origins dating back 2,500 years, but infused within this practices are the new traditions or beliefs. The essence of ancestral worship and filial piety or remembrance transcends time and religion. That being said, many overseas chinese maintain traditional practices long disappeared in China due to the rise of Communism and the cultural revolution wiping out many traditional practices.
Offering to the wondering spirits

Offering to the wondering spirits 

Offering for wondering baby spirits (note the milk and sweets)
Use of windmills infused into tomb remembrance
Traditional use of rice wine in offerings
(some have substituted this with dried chinese tea leaves)

Orange on top of headstone instead of traditionally
a stone

Observation: Intergenerational bonding
Bukit Brown remains relevant to both the old and the young, becoming a landscape where many intergenerational family connect with each other and although in a somewhat morbid setting for some (but peaceful in the naturalistic setting for others) where death is the common end that will eventually embrace all of us. We still find comfort that we are remembered, cared for and loved, thus giving the sense and hope of immortality. It is in this occasion where family stories of family history are often verbalised and passed down to the next generation that keeps us alive.

Young and old coming together

Bukit Brown becomes a bustling place

Everyone doing their part
This are photos that i took in just one morning. I am sure many families came visiting much earlier in the week before which are not reflected here or missed out. But what holds true is this tradition is still maintained till today and a testimony to the community rootedness to this place, many call home.

The article has a lovely write up of Tiong Bahru which today, launched a new heritage trail. I visited Tiong Bahru last month on my own without much knowledge of its heritage. Will try to catch up on a organised tour in the near future, which i read is planned for the first Saturday of the month starting from May.

Further readings:
Qing Ming at Bukit Brown. [website ]. Rojak Librarian, posted on April 6, 2012
Bukit Brown Cemetery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. [website]. Rojak Librarian, posted on April 2, 2013
The forgotten heritage at our own backyard. [website].Bukit Brown Heritage Park, posted on March 28, 2013
New heritage trail launched at Tiong Bahru.[website]. Channel Newsasia, posted on April 14, 2013
Elegy for an urban graveyard. [website]. The Economist, posted on April 1, 2013
The Sunday Times: Unesco bid: How about Tiong Bahru, Bukit Brown. [website]. Tiong Bahru Estate, posted on April 14, 2013

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