Monday, June 20, 2011

Cemetery Destruction/Construction?

    Whenever I ride past the Chinese cemeteries on Mt. Erskine Road I always gaze at them with amazement. I wonder at the long history of the Hokkein Chinese in Penang. The graves are overgrown with weeds and brush, but one can still see the aged tombstones with Chinese inscriptions. I can't help wonder about the lives of those buried there. How long did they live in Penang? When did their ancestors come here and what did they do for a living? How did they die? These cemeteries are steeped in history and tradition. Heading towards Georgetown from my home in Tanjung Tokong I always look at the cemetery on the left had side of the road. There is an old Japanese gun battery, from WWII, right in the middle of the cemetery. What battles this area must have seen!

    I hadn't been in this area for a few weeks, until last night when Kevin and I were going for dinner. As usual I surveyed the cemeteries as we drove by. I was shocked when I came upon the old Japanese gun battery. It was one of only two structures still standing. The other structure was a large ornate tomb, evidently belonging to an influential family. All of the rest of the old historic tombstones were bulldozed into hundreds of tiny fragments. To me this was sacrilegious. I can only imagine how the families of those buried there must feel. I know that in the West if a cemetery is moved, it has to be for a very good reason and each grave is ceremoniously and reverently moved to a new location.

    I can only imagine why this was done. I hope I am wrong, but I think the reason for this desecration is that someone is going to put up some luxury condominiums on the site. Apparently making a few bucks is more important than respecting the dead. If this is true I hope the developer realizes that no Chinese person will live on land that once was a cemetery. I don't think too many other people will want to live there either. I sincerely hope I am wrong, for the sake of Penang's future. If  the condominium developers are allowed to ignore and disrespect Penang's history and ancestry, as well as it's environment, the island is doomed to become a concrete ghost town.

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