The Forgotten Graves of Singapore
The images in this album are only 13 out of the 50 pictures. Please click here to view the full album.[divider]
Behind the mosque that is Masjid Pusara Aman, at the back of Civil Defence Academy’s MT Line, lies a lesser known cemetery or grave complex. Still within the confines of the Chua Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery, it is named Pusara Abadi, or loosely translated, “The Eternal Abode”. Most of these graves were re-interred from various parts of Singapore during the 1970s and 1980s to make way for the country’s residential, industrial and military developments.
Last Friday, I prayed my Jumaat at Masjid Pusara Aman, the way I had been used to during my four years in NTU-NIE, and the years before that while I was serving my NS in SCDF. Serendipitiously, I was brought here, not for the first time. And while walking through it, I was made to wonder if anyone really visits this part of the Muslim Cemetery.
I walked past the old surau, carefully examining the graves. The first one that caught my eye was that of a late Sultan, who passed away in Singapore. Near his grave was that of a well-known pious man, re-interred from a hill in Chai Chee, all the way from the eastern part of Singapore.
There was a small hut covered by a tent in the far left side of the grave complex. There were two elderly men, going about running their errands. As I walked nearer, one of them, this elderly Pakcik called out to me and asked, “Awak cari kubur sesiapa?” He asked if I was looking for a specific grave.
“Takde Cik, saya datang ziarah sahaje.”
“Oohh. Saya ingat kan cari kubur sedara ke apa.”
“Tak Cik. Saya tengok tempat ni macam tak ada orang datang, tu pasal saya nak lihat. Ni kubur-kubur siapa Cik?”
“Ini semua kebanyakan dari pulau-pulau. Dia alih kan ke sini. Ada juga keramat. Yang keramat bawah sikit, sebelah sana,” he pointed down the slope of the side further away from his tent.
“Boleh saya jalan-jalan tengok, Cik? Tak menggangu..?” I asked politely.
“Taak..,” the old man replied. He was shirtless and completely at ease. I don’t think he has that many visitors to this place. And on that Friday afternoon, besides the presence of the few caretakers you’d see here, I was the only living soul walking through this graveyard of thousands.
I walked slowly passing by each grave. Some were marked, with a name or a few names, at times indicating where the deceased had originally been laid to rest. A significant number however, were not. Some tombstones were hidden beneath waist-high grass, and despite fearing what else may lie hidden beneath, the sense of awe and mystery kept me going past slippery and uneven ground.
With each grave that was marked, I tried to read the names of the deceased. Some names were of Javanese or Bugis origin, and will probably be unheard of today. Then there were those who when born, were named according to the elements, or physical characteristics, or the like – names such as Kilat, Fajar, Bulat or Bunga. As I read these names, I thought about how far we have come as a society, and yet, possibly how far removed we are from our individual ethnic roots.
As I walked through, it became clear to me, here was a place that tells a certain narrative. Names of people and places reveal culture and history. They remind us that there were once thriving communities inhabiting the islands of Bukom, Tekong, Sentosa and Semakau. They give names to village settlements on the mainland which are no longer in existence, replaced by steel, concrete and glass.
And like these untended and unvisited graves, their stories will probably be forgotten, possibly sooner rather than later.
One gets a sense of inevitability passing through these graves. In a country where land is scarce and sentimentality even more so, one wonders how long these graves will remain here, untouched, especially given how the nearby Blocks 1 and 2 have been completely exhumed and re-interred to the a site a couple of kilometers up north in the new Pusara Abadi. In fact, from these graves, you can see the clear green fields beneath the blue sky. If I didn’t know better, I would never have guessed that that very field had within it once, the remains of thousands of Muslim men, women and children.
Being amongst the dead and forgotten tends to put reality into perspective. Within it, you feel the transient nature of life, and the Majesty of the Almighty.
Graves have meaning only so far as you allow them to.
With each passing generation, the meaning diminishes and it becomes inevitable that memories too disappear…
[I feel it is important to document the stories behind these forgotten graves. Please feel free to share this album if you feel the same way too. Hopefully, through sharing a descendant or a next-of-kin may recognise the names and give us more insight into the deceased. I do hope the public will be forthcoming with providing us with these information. Lastly I apologise if you feel squeamish or offended about photographing graves. I feel the need to document these graves in particular lest some part of our history and heritage be completely forgotten by the generations to come.] [divider]
Abbas Khan is a secondary school teacher of English Language and Literature who is passionate about local culture and history, especially those not taught in schools. On his own, he is researching on the early Hadrami and Pakistani communities in Singapore. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org