A Singaore Heritage Society book, Spaces Of The Dead: A Case From The Living, describes how Japanese soldiers, including convicted war criminals who committed atrocities in Singapore during World War II, are remembered at the Japanese Cemetery Park here through memorials that describe them as ‘martyrs’ or ‘patriots’, and which continue to be visited by people from Japan.
It thus seems ironic that Bukit Brown Cemetery, with its graves of the pioneers of the Chinese community here, now faces an uncertain future. While Singapore’s urban redevelopment needs are understandable, some ‘heart’ can be applied to the deliberations on the future of Bukit Brown.
It is not merely another old cemetery but one of Singapore’s last surviving historically significant ones. Once demolished, the graves of our forefathers will be lost forever. No amount of documentation or virtual rendering can replace the intrinsic value of Singaporeans being moved or even inspired by the sense of connectedness to this place we call home, that we get by being there physically.
I hope that, at least, the more historically and aesthetically significant graves or headstones can be relocated and preserved in a smaller memorial park to be created out of the current Bukit Brown Cemetery. The fine line balancing the case for the dead and the needs of the living can be drawn.
As a nature park, Bukit Brown can continue to have its place. Singaporeans can enjoy their relaxing strolls, exercise or nature romps in an area whose rolling hillocks are well noted for their rich flora and fauna.
Granting a new lease of life to Bukit Brown by ‘refreshing’ it as a memorial park will also enable Singaporeans and their children to be educated, reminded or inspired by the contributions of our nation’s forefathers.
The sensitive redevelopment and preservation of Bukit Brown to ensure its continued relevance to Singapore and Singaporeans will be a fitting tribute to the pioneers who paved the way for us to be where we are today.