Shrines destroyed in Kusu Island fire 70% reconstructed: Caretaker

Three workers from Vietnam were doing tiling work at the shrines on Aug 29, 2022. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
This is the first phase of the reconstruction, which will follow the original structure of the site. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
Each shrine is roughly 3m by 3m in area and just high enough to accommodate the average person. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Three Malay shrines at the top of a hill on Kusu Island are nearly 70 per cent reconstructed, and will likely be ready for the yearly pilgrimage season which begins at the end of September, said caretaker Ishak Samsudin, 60.

The three shrines, or keramat, were almost entirely destroyed in a fire on April 17.

In a statement on Aug 5, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said the fire was probably caused by an accident, due to naked flames or embers from items people use for praying like candles, joss stick or oil lamps.

When The Straits Times visited the century-old site on Aug 29, three workers from Vietnam were doing tiling work at the shrines. They were constructed in memory of a pious man named Syed Abdul Rahman, his mother Nenek Ghalib and his sister Puteri Fatimah in the 1920s.

There was little evidence of the fire, which was visible from nearby St John's Island, except for some debris and scorch marks on the stone topping the hill.

The site sees heavy traffic from people of various faiths during the ninth lunar month between September and October when devotees visiting Kusu Island's Da Bo Gong (Tua Pek Kong) Temple also pay their respects at the shrines.

The fire was extinguished by the SCDF.

Mr Ishak, whose family has taken care of the shrines for six generations, said he has funded the reconstruction with donations from friends and companies.

"It's been very difficult to carry out the reconstruction because the shrines are on a hill, meaning that we have to carry up all the materials by hand, including about six tonnes of concrete," he added.

The fire was extinguished by the SCDF, which later said investigations showed it was not deliberately set. PHOTO: SCDF/FACEBOOK
Items damaged by the blaze. ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN

The shrines are accessible only by a flight of 152 steps, which also posed a challenge to SCDF firefighters during the blaze.

This is the first phase of the reconstruction, which will follow the original structure of the site, including the foundations and shapes of the ceramic-tiled shrines, Mr Ishak said. Each shrine is roughly 3m by 3m in area and just high enough to accommodate the average person.

The second phase will involve rebuilding the site's metal roof, which will likely not be ready in time for the pilgrimage. A temporary shelter for devotees will be put up, he added.

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Mr Ishak hopes more funds will come from the public to help with the costs, which are about $5,000 to $6,000 a week. He has tried to ensure that fireproof materials such as stone and metal are used.

"I hope everything will run smoothly, it has been many sleepless nights for me trying to make it in time for the pilgrimage season," he said.

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