New Bukit Brown guide is a must-have to explore the cemetery & make sense of its tombs

It's free!

Joshua Lee | November 20, 2017 @ 01:34 pm


The Singapore Heritage Society recently launched the Bukit Brown Wayfinder trail — a self-guided trail for people to explore the heritage and culture of the Bukit Brown cemetery.

The DIY trail spans a mind-boggling 25 different tombs which provide a very comprehensive understanding of the variety of tombs found in the Bukit Brown cemetery, as well as the history behind this iconic place.

While the guide is 115 pages long, there are interesting nuggets of information that you can glean from it.

How Bukit Brown got its name

For example, did you know that Bukit Brown is the first place in Singapore to be given an official Malay-English hybrid name? The place was named after George Henry Brown, a Briton who built his home on what is today’s Mount Pleasant.

The name ‘Bukit Brown’ appeared in a map as early as 1898, although the cemetery only opened in 1922. Via NAS.

How to differentiate tombs belonging to different dialect groups

Another interesting bit of information found in the guide are tips on differentiating between tombs of different dialect groups, and teaches you how to read the inscriptions on Hokkien and Teochew tombstones as well.

Adapted via Bukit Brown Wayfinder.

Characteristics of particular tombstones

Delving deeper into the intricacies of each tombstone, the guide also offers insights into why each tombstone had their own unique characteristics.

For example, the austere tomb of one Tan Peck Lian (who died during the Japanese Occupation) could indicate burial might have been a hasty affair given the “chaos and uncertainty of war”.

Via Bukit Brown Wayfinder.

Contrast this with the tombstone of Yap Yan Neo, the wife of one of the founders of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation. Her resting place is covered with beautiful calligraphy done by her husband and engraved on the alter table.

Via Bukit Brown Wayfinder.

Along the trail, you will also come across five well preserved tiled tombs, all of which were produced at the turn of the 20th century. While these tiles are reminiscent of Peranakan decoration, they were also used by other dialect groups as well.

Via Bukit Brown Wayfinder.

Paupers’ section

Many of the tombs found on the trail belong to famous personalities, but right about halfway though the trail, the guide leads you to an area called the Paupers’ Section.

It is a low-lying area which was frequently flooded, and hence, was reserved for “paupers” who would not be able to afford the burial and plot fees applicable to the rest of the cemetery.

Aside from these, the Bukit Brown Wayfinder offers even more interesting trivia about the cemetery, such as the locations of huge family plots, background stories of famous personalities buried there, and major rites and rituals still practised at Bukit Brown.

You can click here to access the guide. To embark on the trail, you can access the cemetery via Lorong Halwa, off Kheam Hock Road.


Top images via Bukit Brown Wayfinder.

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