Bukit Brown is at once a study in the social and cultural history of Singapore and a green oasis in the heart of a densely developed urban environment. As a cemetery for pioneering Chinese immigrants from all walks of life beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Bukit Brown showcases Singapore's origins and connections to regions beyond. Physically manifesting the links between southern China and Southeast Asia are the Hokkien and Teochew tomb designs and their inclusion of local Peranakan as well as European features. Buried at Bukit Brown are prominent Southeast Asian supporters of China's 1911 Republican Revolution. As a World War II battleground and grave site for casualties, including victims of the Japanese occupation (1942–1945), Bukit Brown also serves as a reminder of Singapore's recent past. Descendents and others visit Bukit Brown regularly, not only to pay their respects, but to gain a unique insight into Singapore’s heritage and to experience its great natural beauty and diversity.
In 2013, the government initiated plans to bisect Bukit Brown with a major thoroughfare, and has proposed the redevelopment of significant areas of Bukit Brown for housing in the coming years. This is a significant loss to the families of those interred there, as many graves are being relocated (or unclaimed remains dispensed at sea) for the road construction; but in destroying the cultural landscape of Bukit Brown, it is a loss to all of society. Local groups and residents, as well as the international community, are calling for more transparency on the part of the government and for a participatory environmental impact assessment that would evaluate the full social, economic, and ecological costs of the development plans and the effects on this historic cultural landscape. Inclusion on the Watch seeks to bolster these efforts and promote a better future for Bukit Brown.
Since the Watch
In August 2013, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority announced the award of a tender to construct the new dual four-lane road and bridges. An area of Bukit Brown was barricaded by the construction firm in October 2013, shortly after the announcement of the 2014 Watch. Exhumations of several thousand graves began in December, as the fate of historic tombstones remains uncertain. Meanwhile, a draft master plan for land use in Singapore released in November by the Urban Redevelopment Authority calls for the removal of much of the cemetery to make way for the construction of housing. Public feedback has been solicited, and supporters of Bukit Brown are collecting testimonies from Singaporeans in order to advocate for the preservation of the cemetery as a heritage site for future generations. In August 2014, All Things Bukit Brown received the Civil Society Advocate Organisation of the Year Award in the inaugural Singapore Advocacy Awards. January 2015
Watch Day 2014
Guided walks and activities for visitors of all ages were held to celebrate Bukit Brown’s Watch Day. The cemetery was the site of discussions on kin and clan, the site’s beautiful carved stones, bird watching, storytelling, a sketch walk, traditional games, and painting inspired by the graves tiles.