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Uncovering secrets of 19th century Singapore

Muslim cemetery in Kampong Glam a treasure trove of port town's past

Published on Sep 5, 2014 6:47 AM

Tucked in a corner off Victoria Street is a little known Muslim cemetery that houses the remains of royalty and luminaries from early Singapore.

Shrouded in heavy foliage and thick with weeds, it holds the secrets of a cosmopolitan Singapore in the 19th century, with tombstones bearing influences from not only nearby Java, but even the faraway Ottoman Empire.

The design of the gravestones reflects the "socio-cultural diversity of the early port town at Kampong Glam", said Dr Imran Tajudeen, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore's architecture department who has been leading a team of 11 in a six-month study.

The prominent personalities at the 19th century Jalan Kubor - Singapore's oldest Muslim graveyard - include Tengku Abdul Kadir, the president of the Singapore Malay Union during the 1940s, local Justice of Peace Haji Ambok Sooloh Haji Omar and traders from Riau, Palembang and Pontianak.

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It is a treasure house of memories where people can trace their lineages... It is important that the place is preserved. If you have no past, you have no future.

- Dr Mohamed Effendy from NUS' department of Southeast Asian Studies, who was also part of the team