Amid the leafy canopy, tweeting birds and the steady hum of insects, you may find here some of the most beautiful antiques in Singapore. Bukit Brown Cemetery is my favourite place to see what are more commonly know as 'Peranakan' tiles. These charming ceramic beauties with a touch of Art Nouveau and hailing from overseas, are often seen on restored shophouses in the old Peranakan enclaves of Joo Chiat Road, Ang Siang Hill and Emerald Hill.
I prefer the rough terrain of this 'outdoor museum', and over the past few years it has become a wonderful place of learning and lotion (mosquito repellent a must) for me! It is named after George Henry Brown, a Briton who came to Singapore in the 1840s. Interestingly, it was also the first official hybrid English and Malay place name in Singapore. The cemetery opened on 1 January 1922 as a municipal cemetery administered by the British and adopted the unconventional idea of allowing any Chinese to be buried there regardless of dialect group and status. Located roughly in the north-west central area of Singapore, it has the largest number of Chinese graves outside mainland China.
Most of these colourful wall tiles at the cemetery date back to the early 20th century and are mainly found adorning the graves of Chinese Peranakans. With an eclectic taste for decorative items from Europe, Peranakans are said to have been fond of such tiles despite their presumably hefty price. Shophouses and graves were rumoured to have sometimes been decorated with the same tiles so that that deceased could continue to enjoy their beauty 'in the next life'.
I took these photos on an overcast day, which soon became a tropical downpour. Amid the overgrowth, the cemetery has an amazing quietness and serenity despite how close to town it is. Since its closure in 1973, the grounds have been maintained only minimally and as a result, the jungle has reclaimed its might with many graves covered in grass and tree roots. Despite this, the condition of many tiles is reasonable in the face of constant exposure to the elements. None of these photos are edited, so what you see is the natural patina of nature over the course of a hundred years.
Read more: My Personal Heritage at Bukit Brown Cemetery