Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bukit Brown Exhibition : Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge

I had the honor of being invited to witness the launch of the Bukit Brown : Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge, an exhibition by ISEAS ( Institute of South East Asian Studies ) and Nanyang Technological University. The exhibition was graced by Minister of State (MOS ) National Development, Desmond Lee and a tour of all the panels and artefact's by ISEAS Senior Fellow and Head of the Bukit Brown Documentation Team, Dr Hui-Yew Foong. The exhibition currently on display from July 19 to October 10, 2014 in National Library, Level 9 provides a rare glimpse into the documentation process, the artifacts found, the tomb architecture and materials used, the pioneers buried there and finally the believes and rituals that are associated with Bukit Brown. Alongside the exhibition are displays of high tech rendition of the graves using mapping technology and finally a huge and very detailed aerial photo of Bukit Brown taken in 1948 by the British Royal Air Force. 
Dr Hui-Yew Fong giving a tour to MOS Desmond Lee and other guest

Artifacts showing the material used in tombs in Bukit Brown 
Professor Kwa Chong Guan and Lim Chen Sian
Visiting Fellow, Archaeology Unit
During the exhibition i learned not only about the history of Bukit Brown but also the community or village that used to exist along Kheam Hock Road such as the Chin Chung School that used to be situated at No 25, Jalan Berahi off Kheam Hock Road and the residents of the village which made up both Chinese and Malay families.
Some of the artefacts on display
Another artefacts which help me gained further insight was the certificate and receipt dated June 1941 for the purchase of two plots for the late Mr Kuah Thye Chor and Mrs Kuah Thye Chor for two plots, 168 and 169, Block V Section B.  I was told based on this documentation, the prices for the plots remained the same (i.e. no inflation !) from 1922 - 1941.

Following through the panels of the exhibit and listening to Dr Hui-Yew Foong share his wealth of knowledge, has helped me to appreciate the connections Bukit Brown has with its neighboring regions through the stories of the pioneers buried in Bukit Brown. I am also touched by the documentation team story of the Spiritual Philanthropy observed during the Hungry Ghost festival, whereby some religious group will give offerings to the souls who have not been visited for many years.

Burial Artefacts 
More than 2,000 artefacts have been documented during the exhumation process of the graves affected by the 8 lane highway. Not all are on display, but some of the artefacts i got see include the famous Chinese Scholar and social reformist, Khoo Seok Wan.  Khoo Seok Wan's Total Abstinence Medal ( a medal by the Total Abstinence Association awarded to someone who have abstained from alcohol). Madam Khoo Siok Hui's funeral urn (the urn was used to re-inter her bones from an older cemetery where she died in 1836) highlights the close linkage between Singapore and Malacca. Her son, Chee Yam Chuan made a name for himself in Malacca via tin mining.
Khoo Seok Wan's medallion and Madam Khoo Siok Hui's funeral urn
Other artefacts that caught my eye on display include personal items such as jewellery (rings, bangles, hairpins and brooches commonly used by Peranakan women) and funeral items buried together with the deceased to help in the journey to the afterlife.
Personal artefacts
Funeral objects

More discoveries and link to the Adam Park Prisoner of War Chapel 
The final exhibit that i spent a lot of time looking at was the detailed aerial photograph  of Bukit Brown taken in 1948 by the British Royal Air Force 81 Squadron . Gleaming through the photo of Bukit Brown i could see the Bukit Brown temple, the shelter near the round-about, aerial view of prominent tombs, the sepoy or coolie lines and the Kheam Hock village. It was here i struck a conversation with Jon Cooper (a battlefield archaeologist  in charge of the Adam Road Park documentation ) about the battle that took place from Kheam Hock to Bukit Brown and finally Mount Pleasant. He shared that the bungalow's in Mt Pleasant was the last defending point after the soldiers retreated from Bukit Brown. They fought another round of fierce battle before orders of surrender came in. We then focus our eyes to Adam Park on the bottom left of the map. It was here when Jon exclaimed that this map provided proof of the location of the Prisoner of War Chapel, house No 11 where the damage seen from the aerial map at No.11 seems to be the same as Robert Mitchell's image of the Chapel House.
Aerial view of Bukit Brown 
POW Chapel 
I wish Jon Cooper all the best if he can verify 100% this discovery. What's for sure, i will shall share in another blog post what i made out of from the aerial photo. Do look out for it !

A travelling exhibition
The exhibition will also travel to the following libraries:
Ang Mo Kio Public Library ( Oct 12 -31, 2014)
Jurong Regional Library ( Nov 3 -30, 2014)
Choa Chu Kang Public Library ( Dec 3 -31, 2014)
Toa Payoh Library Public Library ( Jan 4 -31, 2015)

Do remember to visit this one of kind exhibition either at National Library or a public library near your neighbourhood. Again, my thanks to ISEAS ( Institute of South East Asian Studies ) for the invite and the hardwork in documenting Bukit Brown. Nevertheless, my preference is that the remaining site will be gazetted a UNESCO Heritage site and i hope more will become more aware as a result of this exhibition.

Further Reading
Exhumations in Bukit Brown, posted on July 8, 2014
Last Qing Ming for some residents, posted on April 1, 2014
Khoo Seok Wan and family, posted on November 22, 2013
Bukit Brown, our roots, our future (an exhibition), posted on June 26, 2013

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