Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Cousins Tracing Their Roots

Chew Joo Chiat my great grand-father and also a Singapore pioneer was buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery on 11 February 1926. After his death his eldest son Chew Cheng Liam (my grandpa) and his brother Chew Cheng Swee observed the traditional Qing Ming Jie (情明节)or Tomb Sweeping Festival Day every year. They visited the tomb and paid the workers around there to sweep the tomb clean including removing the overgrown vegetations. Cooked food and cakes were offered on the alter fronting the tombstone, followed by burning of joss sticks and prayer. Lastly joss papers representing gold and silver were burned for the deceased to use in the other world.
After the death of his two sons, Qing Ming Jie Festival tradition for the family was continued annually by the descendants of his second son. I have no idea why his eldest son's family members did not carry on with the tradition.

I was very keen to visit my great grandpa's tomb but non of the descendants from my grandpa knew the site. The opportunity came in 2008 when I made contact with an uncle (Chew Cheng Swee's son). During the 2009 Qing Ming Festival my uncle and his son showed me the way to Chew Joo Chiat's tomb. On looking at the tomb, many thoughts passed through my mind. One was how he being a pauper had succeeded to become a millionaire. My final thought was how many of Chew Joo Chiat's descendants know of their roots especially their family tree in Singapore begins with him. I am building Chew Joo Chiat's family. There are now about 200 and is still adding.

In September 2011 I guided my two young cousins Ivan and Gregory to our great grandpa's tomb. It was not an easy task to search for the site based on my memory of two years ago. Luckily my memory was still good and I managed to find the route to the tomb. Our search was made easier by directional sign with arrow pointing. They were provided by courtesy of the Asia Paranormal Investigators to the tomb sites of most Singapore past pioneers. By following two more such directional signs, we found the tomb. There was a notice hanging at the side of the tomb that gave the name of the deceased, his date of death plus a brief of his family history.

Chew Joo Chiat's tomb was covered with overgrown vegetation and creepers, except for the tombstone and the cemented frontage. The main tombstone had only Chinese characters. The names of his children and grand children were carved on it. I saw my dad's name there. Two small side tablets, one on each side written in English with red paint showed his date of death. We took many pictures and video clips. They will become family teasures in future when the destruction of Bukit Brown Cememtery is completed. The authority had already planned to construct a dual four-lane road through Bukit Brown in 2013. Later on the cemetery would become a housing estate for the living.

I am now passing the baton to my two young cousins. My next visit will be with my immediate family members. My daughter has shown interest. I may get one of my sibblings to come along. I hope the authority will preserve Bukit Brown Cemetery as Singapore's heritage site so that my relay team as well as others can keep on running.






























Bukit Brown Cemetery gate at Lorong Halwa

















Narrow path leading to Chew Joo Chiat's tomb




















3 comments:

Ivan Chew said...

I was thinking we could pass the baton to any Singaporean who's interested :)

Philip said...

For Chew Joo Chiat's descendants it is a responsiblity. For other it is a personal interest.

Philip said...

Jin, I accidently deleted your comment. It is reproduced below.

Eu Jin wrote:

I took an interest in the architecture of 513 Joo Chiat Road and it leads me to the discovery of Chew Joo Chiat. An amazing effort from his descendant. I am very impressed and touched by how his story was told.

Thank you for the great experience.