By Yasmeen Banu
In the near future, the 2,700 tombstones that stands in the middle of a couple of blocks at Commonwealth will no longer be seen as the land owned by the Hakka Clan Association, Yin Fo Fui Kun (应和会馆) is currently considering rehousing the graves in a pagoda.
The Yin Fo Fui Kun cemetery that is along Commonwealth Lane is under discussion to be rehoused so as to free up space for buildings such as a cultural and social hall, clinic or a kindergarten. There are no specific plans as yet, and talks about redevelopment are still under discussion.
Due to space constrain in Singapore, the clan may not be able to preserve the patch of land anymore. In the 1960s, the clan managed to acquire the 1.8ha patch to rebury the exhumed graves when the state began obtaining burial grounds for development.
As times goes by, one can’t help but wonder about the next few historical lands that would need to be given up due to redevelopments.
Recently, The Straits Times (ST) was collecting votes on their website, asking Singaporeans of their favourite sacred Singaporean places. There were 22 options on the list, half of which could easily, within the next decade or so be taken away to make way for better houses, better schools, better development plans.
Though these options given by ST may serve as an authentic part in Singapore’s history, once its gone, will we, again be asked to choose the next few landmarks that’ll remain a part of our hearts?
Perhaps these places won’t be taken away, but there it always that option of reducing it in size, for the same happened with The Yin Fo Fui Kun cemetery.
In 1965, negotiations between the state and the clan began and grew on until 1969, which ultimately ended with the state acquiring all 100 acres of the land. But because the Hakka people only had this one cemetery, they didn’t want to see it gone and objected to using the government-owned Chua Chu Kang Cemetery Complex for re-burial. So the clan requested to keep the existing ancestral temple and preserve about five acres of land for a memorial hall and cemetery for re-burial of the exhumed graves1.
The government consented and gave the land to the clan under a 99-year lease2 and this was how nearly 3000 graves, out of which only 12 have coffins in them and the rest containing urns, were moved to today’s Commonwealth/Queenstown estate.
With other cemeteries located near homes such as at Siglap and Bedok South, the 1.8ha land is the last Hakka cemetery that is located in the middle of a housing board estate.
Ying Fo Fui Kun is the oldest clan association in Singapore, established around 1822. Founded by Liu Run De, the association started as temple serving the welfare and needs of Hakka immigrants, and also acting as a bridge that connected the Hakka community in Singapore and China.
A few years ago, the state decided to sent letters to the families of those who had their loved ones buried at Chua Chu Kang Cemetery Complex to inform them about the graves being exhumed in future to make way for developments. Although no action has been taken yet, the question still remains if more and more things will have to be tucked away neatly and saved only as images in history books in years to come.
And for places that will eventually be wiped away like dust on a shelf, the question is this: Who determines the value of these places? How is this done?
Perhaps we are fast becoming the best and most developed country compared to our ASEAN counterparts, but are we also slowly losing our country’s authenticity? Because at the end of the day, how and who is choosing the “lesser worth” of our heritage and tearing them down one by one whether it’s for the better or whether it’s space constraint?
(Read more about the Yin Fo Fui Kun, the last Hakka cemetary here)
*1 & 2- Excerpt taken from POSKOD.SG
*Photo credits: Lionraw.com / POSKOD.SG