Notes on “The Material Culture of Bukit Brown Cemetery”by Claire Leow taken from http://bukitbrown.com/main/?cat=89
The Baba House organised a talk on The Material Culture of Bukit Brown which was conducted by Dr Lai Chee Kien from the Department of Architecture, NUS. This talk was organised as part of the museum’s Maintaining Heritage Series. Isaac Tan shares his notes taken during the lecture as well as some of his thoughts.
With all the hype over the fate of Bukit Brown Cemetery, it came as no surprise to me to find NUS Museum full on a Wednesday evening. People from all walks of life (volunteers, academics, students and curious citizens) filled the room as they came to learn about some of Dr Lai’s findings at Bukit Brown. After a brief introduction, the mild-mannered gentleman started his talk and took us on a ride of how Bukit Brown can tell us about the histories, politics, economics and culture of Singapore. This article will cover the gist of the lecture.
Features of the Graves
Dr Lai first presented to us some main features noticed in the Hokkien and Teochew graves. The difference between them is that a Hokkien grave would have an additional shore beyond the mound, which the Teochew graves do not. This means that the Hokkien graves are generally bigger than the Teochew graves though the scale of difference depends on the wealth of the family.
However, what is common between both types of graves would be the presence of a deity or guardian near it. The position of the deity is dependent on the fengshui requirements of the graves, and reminds us of Chinese beliefs and customs. It is important to note that there were hybrid graves that adopted a little of both designs. It is not known if such a design was adopted due to fact that the deceased came from both Teochew and Hokkien families but if it were, it would certainly be interesting as the Chinese were not very open to marrying across the dialect groups in the early 1900s.
An interesting find at Bukit Brown were the Christian graves which means that this cemetery is designated for all Chinese rather than by a particular dialect group or religion which is a departure from older cemeteries. Another curiosity in Bukit Brown would be a couple of very small graves that were meant for pets though Dr Lai did not mentio