Lack of Consultation in Chopping Down an Historic Tree

By Hidayah Amin

I write this letter with a heavy heart. I was born in Gedung Kuning (Yellow Mansion) that was acquired by the Singapore government in 1999 under the Land Acquisition Act. To commemorate my birth, my grandmother planted a mango seed in the garden in Gedung Kuning. This seed grew into a tree that bore sweet mangoes that were shared with friends and neighbours.

During a meeting with the General Manager (GM) of the Malay Heritage Centre (MHC) on April 6, the issue of whether the tree should be chopped down came up. A decision arose not to chop down the tree, as there was no termite infestation with the tree as alleged earlier. These are reasons for saving the tree in a country that is quickly losing its heritage:

1. Historical significance of a mango tree in a historic building.

2. Preservation of Malay cultural practice of planting a fruit seed to commemorate the birth of a child.

3. Cultural significance – Malay cooking used a lot of mangoes and it was not uncommon to find mango trees in kampongs.

The GM emailed me on Monday June 25 enclosing an arborist report of 8 June. According to the arborist, the tree was “observed to be overall healthy”. So why chop it down? The GM said that the “Management has… made the decision to have the tree removed from the premises.” She also stated that they had "reviewed all the inputs, feedback and recommendation". As I received only the arborist report, what were the other reports? I was under the impression that the tree was still standing and was finding ways to save it. Alas, I found out that my mango tree was chopped down on Saturday June 23.

That arborist said girdling roots encircling the tree “may cause the tree to uproot or it may introduce decay into the roots system and result in the tree death or uprooting in future”. It is unlikely that the tree may decay anytime soon, leaving enough time for consultation about the future of the heritage tree. Douglas Hyde once said, every crag and gnarled tree and lonely valley has its own strange and graceful legend attached to it. The MHC has been in too much of a hurry without giving due consideration to the symbolic importance of the mango tree which carries historical memories of a Singaporean family that lived in Gedung Kuning.

Hidayah Amin was born in Gedung Kuning (Yellow Mansion) in Kampong Glam – She is the author of Gedung Kuning: Memories of a Malay Childhood. She has a M.Phil in Historical Studies from the University of Cambridge.