Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Marble misery - Thieves pose threat to Chinese heritage in Jamaica after stealing headstones, destroying graves at cemetery

Published:Monday | April 10, 2017 | 4:00 AMJason Cross
Vincent Chang, supervisor of the Board of Directors of the Chinese Benevolent Association of Jamaica, points out the damage to the headstones and the graves at the Chinese Cemetery in Kingston yesterday, during the association's celebration of the annual Gah San ceremony.
Damaged headstones and graves at the Chinese Cemetery in Kingston.

Jamaicans of Chinese descent are expressing outrage as thieves continue to deface headstones and steal marble that was used to construct the majority of the approximately 3,600 graves at the Chinese Cemetery in Kingston.

The graves belong to the ancestors of Chinese Jamaicans, many of whom came to the island as indentured servants in the mid-1800s.

Vincent Chang, supervisor of the Board of Directors of the Chinese Benevolent Association of Jamaica, said that the defacing and theft of the marble has sparked concerns within the Chinese community.

Chang was speaking with The Gleaner yesterday on the grounds of the cemetery during the celebration of Gah San, a major Chinese tradition, organised by the benevolent association to honour deceased relatives and ancestors.




Noting the danger that in the future, tracing Chinese heritage in Jamaica could become an arduous task, he said that the destruction of the graves was unfortunate and sad.

"We are asking for people to appreciate and not deface the headstones," stressed Chang.

"Look at this headstone over here. It has valuable information. It tells everything about this person, all his family, when he was born and possibly from where he came (exactly). Everybody has a Chinese name, which is very important. (Thieves) have been stealing the headstones, (which) are made from expensive marble. Unfortunately, it is very sad and very difficult for us."

He said: "Huge marble slabs (have been) taken up. All this wealth of information is on here, which is now difficult for us third, fourth and fifth generations to read the Chinese on the graves. We ask people not to steal the headstones in here (because there is greater value to the information). It is bad enough for them to steal all the grilles out of here. The grille is bad, but (marble theft) is what I have a problem with. The difficulty here is that everybody would speak a different dialect from the current mainland dialect."

Chang added: "I cry and I cringe because (once the information is gone), it's not until three or four generations (have passed that) someone wants to find some more information about their ancestors, (and) it becomes harder to find."