The fate of the old Chinese cemeteryBy Jobers Bersales
Cebu Daily News
One of the things I tell my archaeology students is that if they need to learn about the past without excavating, the best place to go to is the old cemetery. In fact, there are specialized courses in archaeology abroad that deal with what are called “last landscapes” or, among Cebuanos, “last trip.”
I had written in this column about two years ago about the dismal state of the old Carreta, the original Catholic cemetery of the elite Cebuanos, which was recently turned over by the Archdiocese of Cebu to the city government to be, hopefully, converted into a park for visitors and tourists.
Now I will write about the equally dismal state of the Cebu Chinese Cemetery across the street from the Carreta Public Cemetery. Our heritage show, “Kabilin,” which airs on SugboTV Channel 14 is about to embark on a series of episodes on the Chinese in Cebu, one topic that is closest to my heart, having been instrumental in the initial explorations to establish the Chinese Studies Center at the University of San Carlos in 2006. And one cannot talk about our long history either as Tsinoys or Pinoys without going to this cemetery.
The Cebu Chinese Cemetery was etablished in 1909 by the Associacion Benevola de Cebu under the auspices of Don Benito Tan Unchuan, whose octagonal-shaped mausoleum lies at the center of the 4.4-hectare property beside M.J. Cuenco on the way to Hipodromo. Don Benito, head of the Benevola, led efforts to finally see a resting place for his compatriots some of whose bones would later be repatriated to China.
Amidst the litter and the foul smell of human or animal waste, I and my cameramen as well as assistants went around this tiny but very significant piece of local Chinese history. We were guided by Allan, one of the caretakers of the cemetery, now home to about 400 families, informal settlers who have found residence in the many different mausoleums, some of which are decorated with great and pretty-looking dragons lining the ridges of their pagoda roofs.
Here we saw the large mausoleum of Don Manuel Gotianuy, well-kept amid run-down if not abandoned mausoleums, one of which was waterlogged. Gotianuy, famous son of Don Pedro Gotiaco, was a successful trader who raised an equally successful son, Augusto Go, owner of the University of Cebu.
North of the Tan Unchuan mausoleum towered the obelisk marking the simple but very clean tomb of Doña Modesto Singson Sy Gaisano, matriarch of the retail giant of our time, and his son David Sy, who made Gaisano a household name not just in Cebu. A few meters west we saw the well-kept mausoleum of Don Lucio Uy Herrera, first Chinese consul of Cebu. Some meters farther, amid a profusion of smaller mausoleums and Chinese-style tombs, we found the mausoleum of Yap Anton, famous merchant and hardware magnate of the pre-World War II years. His marble tomb was now a makeshift table for someone living inside.
Farther south are the grand mausoleums of Don Sulpicio Go, undergoing repainting during our visit, and that of his father, Don Carlos Go Thong across the street and beside the big Catholic chapel that now houses the tomb of Cebu’s first billionaire, Don Cayetano Ludo, who made the Ludo and Luym Co. an extremely profitable Asian—not just a Philippine—firm. We chanced upon so many more mausoleums, many of them with markers all in Chinese and no signs of being Christian. There were even old pre-war tombs designed like turtles, a favorite style for the Chinese as the turtle symbolizes long life.
Allan was profuse in his apologies for the dirt and grime all around the cemetery, saying, “You should see this when it’s All Souls’ Day. This entire cemetery would be very clean and full of flowers and food.” I understand that the Benevola today has opened a 44-hectare cemetery in barangay Pulpogan, Consolacion town, one that has good feng shui, accordingly. Still, the good feng shui of this old cemetery has not run out; for the Benevola is apparently planning to clean up this important part of its heritage. But in so doing, it has no recourse but to find ways to make the eviction of 400 or so families here as painless as possible.
The Chinese, like the Filipinos, revere the dead. In fact, ancestor worship has always been an integral part of the culture, this much I learned as a student for a time at one of the local Chinese schools. (Too bad I did not take other Chinese lessons seriously.) It is time to show our reverence to these ancestors resting at the Cebu Chinese Cemetery by spending money to clean it up. They deserve no less than this as a sign of our respect for their being part of the history of a large number of Chinese Cebuanos who live wealthy and successful lives today.
More from this Column:
- The idiocy behind university rankings
- Raiding China
- Mike Rama and making of a livable Cebu
- Rejoinder from non-pigs in the pigsty
- Cebuanos in a pigsty