2012 World Monuments Watch
Way On Cemetery was built as a burial place for members of Panama’s Chinese community. Many Chinese immigrants moved to Panama during the construction of the Panama Railroad in the mid-nineteenth century. The site was purchased by the Sociedad Way On in 1882. Construction began the following year, and the first internment took place in 1911. Designed in accordance with feng shui and numerology traditions, the cemetery is enclosed by stone walls and guarded by a towering entrance gate. In 1942, half of the property was forcibly leased by the government because of a shortage of burial places in the city. The section acquired by the government in 1942 was returned to the Chinese community in 2002; since then, traditional Tomb Sweeping ceremonies have been held annually. Although funeral ceremonies are performed regularly, Way On—like many urban cemeteries—is vulnerable to vandalism. Additionally, the site’s owners lack the necessary resources for maintenance.
Way On Cemetery was included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch in an attempt to draw greater attention to this important burial ground, increase local and international awareness of its significance, and encourage community engagement in the protection of the site.
Since the Watch
Despite the efforts of the cemetery’s caretakers, its condition has continued to deteriorate. Fallen palm trees have damaged the walls and other structures within the cemetery, while inadequate site protection enables vandalism and littering. These issues are pushing many families to move the remains of their family members to other burial places, diminishing the historic and community significance of the cemetery.