Overgrown and littered with dead leaves, Bukit Brown cemetery does not feature in many tourist guides to Singapore. But its 200 hectares are one of the island’s few green spaces, home to a quarter of the bird species – and the final resting place for more than 100,000 people. Yet its days might be numbered. Over 3,700 of those 100,000 graves have now been exhumed, to make way for an eight-lane highway that will cut the cemetery in half.

This gruesome business is nothing new. In Singapore, hundreds of thousands of bodies have already been hauled up from the ground to pave the way for malls, roads and apartment blocks. The entire city-state of Singapore covers a mere 71,830 hectares, less than half the size of Greater London, so land is always at a premium here – and the needs of the dead generally give way to that of the living.

As the country marks 50 years since independence with a weekend of golden jubilee celebrations, however, questions are finally asked about how to preserve what little heritage Singapore has left. In a city where many buildings are brand-new, cemeteries are a rare link to the past. What’s more, as the exhumations continue, the custom of visiting and worshipping at an ancestor’s tomb – once so integral to Chinese culture – is starting to become unfamiliar to Singapore’s Chinese population.

Authorities say digging up Bukit Brown for the road will ease congestion from the Pan-Island Expressway, the first step towards further development of the area: the Ministry of National Development (MND) is considering converting all of Bukit Brown into housing by 2030. The exhumed remains are either reinterred in smaller plots, or cremated, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA). Relatives can then visit their ancestors at the shared plots or at various columbaria.

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Source: theguardian.com – picture: AP


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