Race to save oldest Chinese tombs here July 15, 2006Posted by kentneo in General.
Aug 19, 2006
Race to save oldest Chinese tombs here
Hunt on for descendants of early Chinese settlers buried in Bukit Timah area
By Radha Basu
THE National Parks Board (NParks) has put on hold plans to dig up one of Singapore’s oldest Chinese tombs following a petition from a group of heritage enthusiasts.The tangible slice of history, dating back to the time this modern metropolis was a sleepy village fringed by jungle, was to have been removed to make room for a new extension to the Singapore Botanic Gardens.Tucked away at the foot of a sylvan slope near the former Singapore Management University campus, the tomb dates back to 1842, and holds the remains of a Chinese settler known as Qiu Zheng Zhi, who probably lived during Sir Stamford Raffles’ time.
His wife, Madam Li Ci Shu, is buried alongside in the simple grey structure with bright red engravings.
Two other sets of tombs, also dating back to the 19th century, lie nearby. One of these, a bright orange structure with black engravings, was erected in 1881. Buried here are a Mr Huang Hui Shi and his wife, Madam Si Ma Ni.
The land, which lies on the fringes of the Botanic Gardens, was recently acquired by NParks and may be turned into landscaped horticultural displays. Last week, three heritage enthusiasts, including Singapore Heritage Society president Kevin Tan, met NParks chief executive Ng Lang and Botanic Gardens director Dr Chin See Chung to ask that they save the tombs.
Yesterday, an NParks spokesman told The Straits Times the exhumation plans have been put on hold while the board tries to find out more about the people buried there. A final decision will be taken later.
Heritage enthusiasts, meanwhile, are hoping that the tombs will be spared. Dr Tan, who is editing a book on Singapore cemeteries, believes the Qiu tomb to be the oldest ‘in situ’ Chinese tomb in Singapore, meaning it still remains at the site where it was first built. ‘It is a miracle that the tombs survived so many generations and so much construction nearby,’ said Dr Tan.
He was alerted to the possible possibile exhumation by two heritage-loving sisters, former National Archives official Ms Tan Beng Luan and teacher Ms Tan Beng Chiak. Earlier this year, they stumbled upon signs that the graves were to be exhumed.
The sisters felt these tombs should be saved simply because there are ‘so few things in Singapore that are so old’, said Ms Tan Beng Chiak, a biology teacher with a keen interest in history.
The ownership of the tombs’ site in the Bukit Timah area has changed many times – from the old Botanic Gardens, to Raffles College, Singapore University, the National Institute of Education and the former Singapore Management University.
If preserved, the tombs could serve as important educational exhibits to teach students and visitors about the culture and practices of early Chinese immigrants, said Ms Tan Beng Chiak. ‘Only with the knowledge of our past through tangible objects and not just in the pages on history books, will the young be able to feel a sense of belonging and rootedness,’ she said. Meanwhile, Ms Tan Beng Luan, a history researcher and pre-school principal, is keen to crack the mysteries of who these people were and where they came from.
The Qius, whose descendants may be the Khoos, may have come from Penang, she said, but she is not sure. Mr Huang came from China, though his wife may have been Indian or Eurasian.
Old maps of the area show that there was a gambier plantation at the site in the 1840s. By 1880, the land was under the British and part of the Botanic Gardens. An ‘economic garden’ had been built there to experiment with new cash crops – such as coffee, rubber and pepper – that could boost the local economy. ‘We have no idea why the Huang tombs were allowed to be built right in the middle of the economic garden,’ said Ms Tan Beng Luan.
She is now hoping that descendants of the two families will step forward to help solve the mysteries that have lasted more than a century.
Are you related to these two couples?
TWO sets of tombs which belong to two married couples. The third tomb is unmarked.
Tomb 1: Built 1842
Belongs to Qiu Zheng Zhi and his wife, Li Ci Shu.
The names of the couple’s children and a grandson are also inscribed on the tomb:
Sons: Qiu Zhen Xiang, Qiu Zhen Fu, Qiu Qin Lu, Qiu Qin Zhan
Daughters: De Yan, Yu Ying
Grandson: Qiu Wei De
Qiu Zhen Zhi was from Xin An, a village in Hai Cheng county in China’s Fujian province. He was a Hokkien and thus the surname of any present-day descendants would either be Khoo or Koo.
Tomb 2: Built 1881Belongs to Huang Hui Shi and his wife, Si Ma Ni. Unlike the Qius, husband and wife have separate tombstones.
Daughter: Huang He Lan
Grandson: Qiu Qin Chou, Qiu Qin Shuo
The family came from the Chinese village of Bi Jian. It could either be in the Guangdong or Fujian province. Thus the surname of the Huangs’ present-day descendants could be either Oei, Ooi, Wee, Oey, Ng or Wong.
Anyone who can shed light on the tombs or the people buried there can call Stomp, The Straits Times’ interactive portal, on 1800-7775557.