Bukit Brown- Nature & Heritage

I first heard about Bukit Brown in a live TedxSingapore talk by Claire Leow and remember being fascinated by what she said, and decided that I had to visit one day.  Bukit Brown is the oldest Chinese cemetery in Singapore. It was opened to the public in 1922 and was closed in 1973. Over the 40 last years, this cemetery has flourished with nature and wildlife, home to a quarter of the bird species in Singapore.

I recently went for two guided tours in a single weekend! First, we took the heritage tour with Claire Leow, Catherine Lim and Lim Su Min, and second a nature tour with Peter Park and other ‘Brownies’. Bukit Brown was such a magical place- I felt compelled to write about it, and definitely agree with Claire that it should be protected as a World Heritage site. All the visitors met at the entrance under the rain tree. I was sad to hear that this tree and many of the tombs will disappear due to a proposed highway that may go
through Bukit Brown.
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Lim Su Min (one of our guides)

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Claire Leow (our main heritage tour guide)

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Peter Pak (our Nature guide)

Each tomb had its own unique characteristics, with intricate tile patterns and stone figures. I really loved the theory that most of the tombs were shaped like a mother’s womb. We come to the earth from our mother’s womb, we must return to Mother Earth’s womb.

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Some of the tombs had a little altar with the symbol used for the earth goddess.

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Nature is so rich and beautiful at Bukit Brown which has a calm and serene ambience. Wildlife that has been spotted there include- the Sunda Pangolin, Jambu Fruit dove, Malayan Colugo and the Red-Crowned Barbet. We saw a Collared Kingfisher, a Lesser Coucal and two Pacific Swallows. I was very excited to see two swallows sitting so calmly, as they are always flitting around swiftly and never stop to rest!

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This cute lion statue was supposed to ‘guard’ the tombs!
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This is an impressive statue of a Sikh Guard. It was fashionable during a particular period to have statues of Sikh guards in front of tombs.
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The biggest tomb in Bukit Brown is that of Om Sang Leong, a businessman.  There were many stone carvings with very interesting stories as told by Peter Pak, our guide.

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The wild nature that one can find in Bukit Brown:

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This is the  Common Mormon (Papilio polytes) whose patterns looked like paw-prints!

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I learnt so much about Bukit Brown that weekend, and I do hope this beautiful space will be preserved for a long, long time!

For more on Bukit Brown please visit, The Bukit Brown website
Bukit Brown Facebook Group

Lavanya Prakash

Blog- https://mynatureexperiences.wordpress.com/
Twitter- https://twitter.com/MyNatureExp
Facebook page- Mynatureexperiences
Email- mynatureexperiences(at)hotmail.com

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6 thoughts on “Bukit Brown- Nature & Heritage

  1. Thanks for the write-up, I enjoyed reading it. The magic of Bukit Brown is that there is always something new to see, no matter how many times one visits.

    From post: “The biggest tomb in Bukit Brown is that of Om Sang Leong, a businessman.”

    The said businessman is Ong Sam Leong (1857 – 1918), who was of Peranakan Hokkien-Chinese ancestry.

    More info below about Ong Sam Leong:-
    * Ong Sam Leong, Peranakan business tycoon (PublicHouse.sg – Oct 2011)
    * Ong Sam Leong, A Grand Repose (All Things Bukit Brown – Jan 2012)
    * Ong Sam Leong (S’pore Infopedia – Feb 2009)

    The land containing Bukit Brown & the adjoining Seh Ong Hill (where the huge tomb of a daughter-in-law of Ong Sam Leong is located) originally belonged to a Hokkien clan called Seh Ong Kongsi (ie. surname Ong clan). These 2 sites were collectively called Seh Ong Cemetery & catered only to the burials of clan members.

    As a private clan cemetery, there was no constraint on plot sizes or tomb orientations. So the earliest burial plots there are of a wide range of sizes — ranging from the tiny “footprint” occupied by paupers to the 600 sqm plot containing the elaborate tomb of Ong Sam Leong. The individual tombstones may also face all sorts of directions, depending on what the family’s geomancy consultant had recommended for the deceased.

    In 1922, the colonial government acquired a portion of the land (ie. the current Bukit Brown) from the Ong clan, & made it a public municipal cemetery. To save space, burial plot dimensions were restricted & limited to 3 or 4 standard size categories, thus putting an end to the availability of enormous plots. The tomb orientations were also standardized — if you notice, the post-1922 tombs at Bukit Brown typically face downhill to facilitate drainage & minimize accumulation of debris.

  2. I enjoyed reading this. It is nice to see youth writing about our history. I should visit the cemetery before it is all gone. I look forward to reading more of your work. Great photos too! 🙂

    1. Hi Vandana aunty, Wow, that’s great! Yes, Bukit brown is a beautiful place, and a haven for birds! Thanks so much.

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