Robyn Flemming, the author of Skinful: A Memoir of Addiction, is very much alive and well and currently in Malaysia. In this, the first of three guest posts (GPs), Robyn takes us to the city of Kuching in the province of Sarawak to explore the Hakka Chinese Cemetery with its wonderfully intricate mosaic gravestones. She took the photos; she wrote the text. I simply wish I could have been there.
Around 30 different ethnic groups call Sarawak home, including Malays, Chinese, Indians, and the many indigenous tribes (known collectively as Dayaks). Chinese traders arrived over 1400 years ago on the island of Borneo, which Sarawak shares today with Indonesian Kalimantan and the independent Islamic sultanate of Brunei. By the mid-1800s, there was a permanent population of Chinese immigrants working in the pepper plantations and gold mines and operating as traders. Today, the Chinese are the second-largest ethnic group after the indigenous Iban people, and 30 per cent of them are of Hakka descent.
This Hakka Chinese Cemetery in Kuching dates from 1969. The tombs are elaborately decorated “residences” and reflect the deceased person’s social position.
One of the tombs shown here houses the remains of a man and his two wives. Caskets are positioned on the small plots according to the principles of feng shui so that they are in harmony with the surrounding energy flows.
The Ching Ming festival, known as Grave-Sweeping Day, takes place every year in spring. The cemetery is crowded with family members tidying the tombs of their ancestors, and making offerings to them of fruits, vegetables and wine. Paper replicas of luxury goods such as brand-name clothing, cars, electronic goods and money are burned to ensure that their ancestors enjoy a comfortable afterlife.
[MM: Eve Sonary Heng wrote a piece for the Borneo Post in 2016 with some interesting stories from the graveyard minder.]