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Landslide unearths Yishun burial site

Prayers to free 'lost souls'
Landslide unearths Yishun burial site. It contains 34,000 urns of unclaimed human remains
By Yvonne Poon
March 21, 2007
The Electric New Paper

FOR more than half a century, the remains of 34,000 people lay buried beneath this hill in Yishun.

Unnamed and with no one to mourn their passing, they lay in their resting place until a small landslide earlier this year uncovered a number of earthenware urns.

The hill is near Block 299, at the junction of Yishun Avenue 2 and Yishun Ring Road.

Not many residents living there know about it. There are no headstones and no visitors.

But a nearby temple is planning to hold a prayer ceremony to 'free' the 'lost souls'.

The exposed urns were located along the side of the hill, which is surrounded by blocks of flats and a few temples.

They were sticking out of the ground and caught the eye of one passer-by.

Mr Tye Lee Sun, 55, was on the MRT train with his wife on his way to town when he passed the hill.

The sharp-eyed funeral director from Peace Casket immediately knew what they were.

He said: 'Being in this line, I knew immediately that those urns were used for storing human ashes.

'I felt that the ashes should be handled properly. It's not right to leave them out there like that.

'What was interesting was that these big urns - 75cm high - were only used in olden times to store exhumed bodies. They're not like the 25cm-high urns we use for storing ashes today.'

Mr Tye had been so concerned that he went out of his way to take a closer look at the urns last Tuesday and then called The New Paper Hotline.

When we went there, a marble memorial tower at the main entrance, built 28 years ago, is the only giveaway to the burial site.

Known as the Teochew Memorial Park or Guang De Shan, the park was established in 1909 by Ngee Ann Kongsi, a foundation dedicated to serving the local Teochew community.

The foundation is funded by Orchard Road's Ngee Ann City, according to the foundation's website. The urns were buried there by Ngee Ann Kongsi in 1950.


Mr Baey Theng Mong, 62, administrative secretary, told The New Paper: 'According to our records, there are over 34,000 urns in the memorial park.

'They're all unclaimed remains, so our records don't have their names or information.

'We conduct religious rites to show our respect and thanksgiving for them once a year.'

In 1950, the land on which some Teochew cemeteries were located - ranging from Guang Ren Shan in Changi to Tai Shan Ting in Orchard - was acquired by the Government.

Ngee Ann Kongsi owned those pieces of land. It exhumed and cremated all unclaimed remains from those cemeteries.

The ashes were then placed in urns and buried at Teochew Memorial Park, where they have been since.

Ms Diana Quek, an administrator with Ngee Ann Kongsi, added: 'We know about the uncovered urns. We're trying to resolve the matter, perhaps transfer some of the remains in the old, broken urns to new ones.'

The Nam Hong Siang Theon Temple, which is 500m away from the memorial park, will conduct a prayer session from 31Mar to 2Apr.

The chairman of the organising committee for this ceremony, who gave his name only as Mr Lim, said: 'Over the past years, quite a few businessmen and religious groups in the Yishun area have been asking our temple to conduct these rites for the 'lost souls' buried in this place.

'So early last year, I wrote a letter to Ngee Ann Kongsi asking them for permission to conduct rites there.'

This is the first time they are conducting a prayer ceremony specifically to 'free' the souls rather than merely pay respects.

The ceremony involves 40 religious sects and temples from the Yishun and Sembawang neighbourhoods.

Nor are they limited to only Chinese religious groups. Hindu temples Sreemaha Mariamman and Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar are also taking part.

'It's not necessarily the Chinese who were buried there. Some of them could be foreigners or of different religious denominations and races,' said Mr Lim.

He said he hopes to get Yishun residents involved by getting them to do their bit for charity.

'We have prepared special gift packs of food, containing over 10 different items, as offerings for these souls, which have not been appeased for so long,' he said.

'These packs are available for public donation at $20 each. Our target is to sell 1,800 packs.'

He said that after the three-day ceremony, the food in these packs will be distributed to 14 charities and 500 low-income households.

'The money we collect will be donated to our medical centre, Nam Hong Siang Theon Free Medical Centre, which provides free traditional Chinese medical services to the public,' Mr Lim added.

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