When even the dead are evicted


The century-old family cemetery of Penang’s first ‘Kapitan Cina’ Koh Lay Huan in Batu Lanchang has been dug up to make way for a property development project in a move that has alarmed heritage enthusiasts.

The plot is behind the Lintang Gangsa Apartment (next to the market) off Green Lane (lot number 1560, section 5, DTL. The housing project, reportedly undertaken by developer Kemuning Setia Sdn Bhd covers 11.5 acres of the 27-acre site, was approved by the MPPP in December 2009.

Read Wikipedia here to find out more about Koh Lay Huan, who was appointed by Francis Light as the the first Kapitan Cina of Penang in 1787. One of Koh’s sons even accompanied Stamford Raffles to Singapore in 1819.

Among those buried in the cemetery is Koh’s grandson, Koh Seang Tatt, who died in 1899.

According to an NST report:

Prior to 1880, Balik Pulau was under the jurisdiction of an adviser to the British colonial government, Koh Seang Tatt, a local magnate who took up law studies in England.

Apart from being the district magistrate, he was also given the authority to bring in labourers from China to open up the forested hilly areas at Air Puteh. Most of the cleared areas became Koh’s property.

There were already Malay villagers in the various kampung, most of whom had migrated from Kedah and Perlis after the Siamese attack on Kedah in 1821.

Koh had administrative authority not only of Balik Pulau but also Air Itam and Tanjung Tokong.

There was no proper road in Balik Pulau then. Neither was there any horse carriage. Koh stayed in Air Itam and only visited Balik Pulau occasionally. He usually made the trip along the hilly path on a sedan chair carried by four coolies, escorted by two constables.

Balik Pulau was also called “Kongsi” because of the longhouse (in front of the Indian temple) built to accommodate 300 to 400 labourers from China. Among the areas cleared by these labourers were Air Putih which was planted with rubber.

The road Seang Teik was named after him and the fountain at the Balik Pulau roundabout was his contribution.

The Kohs were famous among the local Chinese community and are a part of Penang’s history and heritage. Heritage enthusiasts learned that the MPPP had given approval to dig up the tombs without looking into the historical significance – and 78 tombs were said to have been removed on this site and neigbouring areas. The MPPP had reportedly received an application by a Koh Chong Poh to remove 33 graves from this site but only approved 23. (Koh later told theSun that the tomb of Koh Lay Huan and his wife would not be disturbed and would instead be turned into a small memorial park.)

An MPPP Councillor told me there is no list of heritage sites outside George Town; only a listing of a few houses e.g. Suffolk House. “If the owner of the cemetery comes to the MPPP to request a demolition of cemeteries not listed as of heritage value, I think it is difficult for MPPP to refuse if the building guidelines are complied with.”

At present, anyone intending to excavate cemeteries has to apply to the MPPP but if they fail to do so, the fine is very small, if at all. In all likelihood, if no one complains, MPPP officers could well turn a blind eye.  The task of informing family members is the responsibility of the cemetery management – it is not a requirement of the council  – and failure to do so would be covered under civil law and might constitute breach of contract between the family and the cemetery management.

The World Heritage Inc office in Penang should think of expanding its reach as part of its terms of reference in protecting sites and structures of historical value. The MPPP for its part should ensure there is consultation with heritage groups when considering applications. It should also carefully assess, review and if necessary, amend its own guidelines and regulations on projects affecting cemeteries.

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DAP – Development Above People….

Satu lagi Projek Kerajaan Pakatan Rakyat !!


More important thing is HISTORY and History of Penang. But Gerakan/UMNO rob and erase the history. A stature in the City help rather than a grave. China’s modern father Chou En Lai’s ashes was spead to the sea.

Lim BC

Anil, Your title “When even the death are evicted” sound like you are trying to tell us something? Even the descendents do not care about their great grandfather grave, why you care? Are you going to pray at every “cheng Beng” for them?


If Koh’s descendants do not care about their heritage and sold the land, or if the burial plot land was owned by someone from the beginning, then who is going to pay for its retention as a burial ground?
Is it going to be the state government using our tax money?

Please be reminded that even Tun Dr Lim’s body was cremated.
Certainly few would consider Koh’s legacy to be greater than that of Tun Dr Lim.


There goes Ah Soon again. Just because his super bestest Traffic Dispersal System for Penang was not accepted.
If we do not move these old graves and re-locate there will be no place to put up Ah Soon’s Transport Hubs. Maybe we can have a few graves and tombstones for passengers to sit on in Ah Soon’s Transport Hubs


Our old graveyards are long overdue to be transferred to a central and suitable location…It is ridiculous and disrespectful to see gravestones by public toilets and shopping complexes…it only reveals our bad planning…


Aiyah Anil, due respect to the dead’s descendants, sometimes, it is necessary to remove graves and relocate. After all, when a person dies his body is just a shell and his soul goes to wherever, he deserves. So, what is the big deal?…especially, all the necessary procedure was followed.
Having said that, in the modern world where burial grounds have become so commercialized, would it not be better to opt for one’s ashes scattered in the sea or blown with the wind. Sentiments is better placed in the alter of the descendants’ homes!

tan,tanjong bungah

Hi everyone,

The MPPP and other local authorities would have existing regulations and guidelines on when an old graves in cemeteries that can be excavated to be recycled for use for fresh graves or other development.

The onus now is for relevant NGOs and federa/state/local authorities to identify such sites of great historical significance to present and future Malaysians. Once so identified, get such sites duly gazetted as heritage sites!

Pretty Obvious

With an ever increasing population, there is a need for new jobs and housing for the living.


I think the developer followed the necessary procedures. I remembered seeing the notice of exhumation in the newspapers. And there is a huge notice board at Lebuhraya Thean Tek

Andrew I

Assuming the owner is one of the descendants, there’s really not much that can be done. Who’s paying for the upkeep?

The needs of the living v. the needs of the dead. Personally, I don’t believe in having a stake in God’s green earth forever. Isn’t that what a burial plot is?

When I’m gone, I would want my ashes scattered in the sea.


wait, are MPPP doing those excavation for FREE?

Ong Eu Soon

Penang lead! Development first, people later especially dead people!

How come?

The housing project, reportedly undertaken by developer Kemuning Setia Sdn Bhd covers 11.5 acres of the 27-acre site, was approved by the MPPP in December 2009.

Look at it this way.

Back in the days of the Gerakan, at least the dead still got to enjoy their restful days.

Now, thanks to Lim Guan Eng, all the dead people in Penang are getting worried. They don’t know when they gonna be dug up, with the blessing of Lim Guan Eng.