14 June 2010

The Mystery Grave of Batu Putih

Kampung Batu Putih, which literally translates to White Rock Village, was a quaint little Malay village situated along the coast of Changi. Not to be mistaken with similarly named village in Malaysia or the Pulau Batu Putih in the South China Sea, it is located where the present day Changi Coastal Broadwalk spans. The village was cleared out when the government relocated the villagers to HDB flats.

Kampung Batu Putih listed as a "Malay Village along Changi Coast" in a pre-WWII Japanese Postcard.
Source - Images Of Singapore From A Japanese Perspective by Lim Shao Bin

Taking a walk along the kampung's former location, we made a few interesting finds – a large rock outcrop as a landmark, a solitary tomb lying next to the coast and a football field which was formerly a village cemetery (which we will touch on in the near future, in another article). One of the core members of the team and resident Changi correspondent, Roy, joins us for this stroll along the Changi coast.

A photo of the kampung taken in 1927.
Source - The History Of Changi by Henry Probert

Roy has been living in Changi for as long as he can remember. The Changi Tree or the Changi Village weren't the only icons of this area full of heritage. He remembers hearing stories about a dreamy little village which used to lie along the western coast of Changi. This village was called Kampung Batu Putih, due to a huge white rock outcrop which was situated in the waters just off the coast, hence the interesting name.

When the British decided to beef up Singapore's defence in the 1920s, they noted that Changi could play an important in the coastal defence of Singapore as it overlooked the eastern sea approach. This was in line with the British belief that any enemy attack would come from the sea, as Malaya (Malaysia) was still under British rule. Several large gun batteries were built in the Changi area, with Battery Hill and the Johor Battery being the most notable of them. Thus, Kampung Batu Putih, as well as the nearby Changi village, provided the British soldiers with local produce at cheap prices.

Tall, but the Changi tree was probably 3 or 4 times taller than this

Sadly, during the Second World War, the Japanese forces invaded from the north, thus rendering the batteries useless. Their guns couldn't be turned towards the enemy in the north due to their flat trajectory, and most of the soldiers in Changi were moved to Fort Canning in the darkest days of the war, just before Britain surrendered to Japan. The abandoned batteries and the changi area in general were soon taken over by the invading Japanese forces and turned into a huge POW area, a sad end to the kampung.

That notwithstanding, the huge outcrop still stands steadfast off the coast of the former kampung. First of all, we made a beeline for the iconic white rock outcrop which the village was named after. After all, it was the landmark which showed where the village used to stand, right? When we approached the rock along Changi Broadwalk, we were amazed by how huge it was.

It is interesting for us to find out that this rock was also known as The Loyang Rock or Squance Rock. A traditional nesting site for the rare Black-naped Terns which arrive in March, these birds start roosting on the rock between April to August, before leaving for the South China Sea after.

Interesting trivia: Do you know that the Black-naped Tern is also found on our country's old $1 note? (click here to view)

The Loyang Rock / Squance Rock / Batu Putih

It was indeed a piece of the past which stood before us, painting us a beautiful picture of a sleepy village along the azure waters of the coast facing this magnificent outcrop.

Someone actually painted or marked the number 12 on the side of the rock facing the beach. Could it be used as a conservation representation or symbol of some sorts? Although the bottom part of the rock was submerged by water, the rock is accessible during low tide but not advisable for safety reasons.

Numbers on rock

There are also some other alphanumerical markings slightly hidden in the groove of the rock, but we could only make out another number 12 and something that looks like the letters "QCCC". Perhaps the only way to take a closer look with a camera with zoom lens, while the tide subsides.

At this point, we were actually standing in between the Cliff Walk and Sailing Point Walk. To the rear of the Sailing Point Walk was the football field of the former SIA Club. Roy quickly pointed out to us that this football field was the former location of the village's cemetery, which we will cover in a future article. However, the solitary tomb that we were looking for wasn't located there as all the tombs have been cleared prior to the building of the clubhouse. Nonetheless, we decided to take a short walk over there to take a look.

After our short walkabout around the field warden's office, the team pushed on towards the other side of the field, where a small open gate between a fence led to a broken pathway behind the Changi Fairy Point chalets. We could see the beach area from here so we figured that it would be easier to access the hidden tomb from the beach rather than from the forested area behind it. After a short 5 minute walk towards the beach, which incidentally led us through two rows of Frangipani trees and a couple of giant Rain Trees growing beside the fence, as well as a concrete drain which was broken in between, we met up again with the familiar wooden walkway of Changi Broadwalk.

The only way from here was to travel towards the Changi Beach Club along the Broadwalk. Roy explained along the way that the village lay along the coast where the present Broadwalk path stood. Fishing boats would ply along this coast in search of fresh fishes for both sustenance and profit. Bubus (submerged metal cages) as well as the traditional Jalas (fishing net) would be used to catch fishes, crabs and other kinds of seafood.

As we mounted the wooden steps into yet another forested area along the coast, Roy quickly points out the access point to the tomb. At first, we couldn't see any visible path but we managed to trace Roy's index finger to a small, "blink and you'll miss it" clearing near to one of the wooden benches situated along the wooden path. It was then clear to us. This clearing is the access point to the tomb, which would otherwise be so well hidden that there wouldn't be any clear indication that it lay snugly between the trees. However, the vegetation was growing quite thickly around the said clearing, which could mean that the tomb hasn't been visited for quite a long while.

Hidden from view

Following Roy's lead, we entered the clearing, and right in front of our eyes, the hidden tomb of Kampung Batu Putih lay between the gentle swaying of the trees around it in the gentle sea breeze. Interestingly enough, the tomb was resting on a gentle slope.

Compared to the more modern Muslim tombs of today, which have intricate designs on the Batu Nisans (headstones), this tomb just comprised of two simple pointed rocks. As Roy pointed out: "The large and slightly stone signified where the head of the buried body was, while the smaller and significantly shorter stone shows where the feet are. Muslims are generally buried in the same manner."

There were also several bricks anchored into the ground around these two stones, forming some sort of a rectangular border around the body. This is probably to show the position of the body, and, to prevent anyone from crossing over the body, which is considered a rude gesture. As you may have already noticed, moss has started to grow on some of the bricks.

Another photo of the grave taken without flash

Imagine the difficulty we had when we visited the Pulau Ubin Muslim Cemetery in the dark the last time round! Several similar Batu Nisans were lying around us, with no clear indication of which were a pair. We had to comb the cemetery slowly and carefully to prevent showing any disrespect to the deceased.
There was a short tree growing right next to the tomb, but most of it's leaves were dry and dead. A small white ceramic pot lay close to the headstone, which was probably used for offerings in the past.

Big noisy fierce looking ants termites

I was surprised by how close the tomb was to unsuspecting joggers on the wooden path. From my position at the nearest bench, I could determine that the tomb couldn't have been more than 10 metres into the undergrowth. If only those who were sitting on the wooden benches nearby knew what was laying so close behind them!

And so there you have it. The hidden tomb of Kampung Batu Putih does exist, despite rumours playing it down as plainly as an urban legend. There has been talk of a few more tombs nestled nearby, but after combing the surrounding area, the team wasn't able to find anything except for a stone staircase that led uphill and was blocked off by a dead-fall midway.

A path leading to somewhere in the past

That being said, we're pretty sure that more stories are set to emerge from this forgotten village by the sea, not unlike pieces of an ancient puzzle that need to be put together. Could there be more hidden tombs around the area? Or perhaps someone would be able to relate some stories from this dreamy kampung?

Know anything about the Kampung? Or were you a former resident of the village or the surrounding Changi area? Drop us an e-mail and we'll be really glad to follow up. Thanks for reading!

Photos from this album
Slideshow of album

Reference links:
Heritage in Changi - The Loyang Rock (Squance Rock) and the Black-naped Terns
Taiwan's Ecological Conservation - Black-naped Terns

Article and photos copyright of Aaron Chan & Andrew (熊赴龍).

Forgotten places, secret spots, lost historical sites or having some interesting info to share? Is there a location/venue you want the One-North Explorers to feature?

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  1. interesting to read about such hidden places...I'm planning to go explore syonan jinja soon with a friend.

    btw those are termites, not ants.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Anon!

    We hope you have fun in your trip to Syonan Jinja. Remember to bring lots of water and mosquito repellant!

  3. Hello there! I'm the same guy who wrote to you about the Pulau Tekong/Sajahat articles etc. Currently me and my part time friends are also finding tombs or lost cemeteries. For now, I can't disclose much info yet because of lack of evidences or clues. However, I 'm willing to tell a few :- the bedok south cemetery (guess you guys should know this), somewhere in teck whye, somewhere in Pulau Seletar/Simpang/Yishun area and the most interesting, a muslim keramat in Siang Lim Temple (Toa Payoh).

    1. Hi Anon.. there is a cemetery in Teck Whye..?? The Muslim keramat at Toa Payoh, I heard about it. There are few more keramats in that area few years back before been exhumed. Maybe you can look for a Malay man, I can't remember his name, I think the only Singapore's Keramat Directory so far.. he knows more.

  4. Dear Anon, thanks for the info. I think I know a couple of those places which you mentioned. Keep us posted on your progress, and good luck on your search!

  5. Hello Aaron..! I've just found out there are a few keramats @ Jurong Shipyard. However, the place is very restricted, I'm not sure how I can go in there. Want to try and explore? :)

    1. Anon, true there are keramats in that area. As said, better u look for the Singapore's Keramat Directory :)

  6. In the past, before redevelopment there were cemeteries everywhere. Now, majority have been exhumed. However, there are still others still out there, waitng for us to explore, knowingly or unknowingly. Similarly, the keramats.

    It's nice to see people exploring the past. So many histories, stories & mysteries in tiny S'pore + her islands..