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As a little girl growing up on Christmas Island, Sim Seet remembers her mother taking her to visit her grandmother’s grave every April.

This Chinese cemetery, one of two outside Australia, intentionally overlooks the Indian Ocean.

Despite never having met her grandmother, Ms. Sitte, a fourth-generation Islander, could feel her grandmother’s spirit close by, which brought tears to her eyes.

“I haven’t seen her before, but I miss her,” she told the Australian Associated Press as she stood by the family matriarch’s headstone.

“When I came here, I felt close to her.”

However, it is also a place for other emotions.

The cheerful local worked as a cleaner at the island’s only hospital for more than 20 years, but she soon got over her grief and recalled anecdotes from her childhood.

“I was naughty when I was four years old and used to sit on top [of graves], and my mom would scold me and say, ‘No, you can’t sit there, your grandfather is buried there,'” she said as she strolled among the graves.

“I didn’t understand, I was young.”

April 5 is the Qingming Festival, a day when the Chinese sweep the graves of their ancestors and nourish their souls with elaborate meals. This custom dates back some 2,500 years.

They also burn incense and scatter small amounts of paper money to honor their ancestors and ensure their reunion in the afterlife.

Ms. Seet’s great-grandparents came to Christmas Island from China, via Singapore, as part of a wave of immigration triggered by the phosphate mining boom in the early 1800s.

She is the only member of the family still on the island, and while she carries on the fading tradition of the Ching Ming Festival, she also tends to her grandparents’ graves from time to time, clearing away overgrown shrubs and fallen leaves.

The Christmas Island Chinese Cemetery was built more than a century ago.

Museum curator and author Helene Bartleson, who has extensively mapped the island’s Chinese cemeteries, called them a unique blend of nature and culture and a “unique spiritual heritage.”

“If you go to China, you will never find a cemetery like this again,” she said.

Ms. Batterson said the fourth-century “Book of Burials,” by Taoist mystic Guo Pu, played an important role in how the island’s Chinese residents, mainly miners, were buried according to feng shui principles.

There are many Taoist temples and shrines on the island, and the cemeteries are built high up on the cliffs with sweeping views of the sea.

“The natural topographical features of Christmas Island fit very well with the description (in the book) of ideal locations for building cemeteries and then building individual graves within the cemeteries, so there are two such graves on the island,” she said.

One of these is the Phosphate Hill Cemetery, where a secret fraternity of workers known as the Brotherhood of the Hunger Brothers, or the Heaven and Earth Society, was responsible for keeping the burial process.

As a little girl growing up on Christmas Island, Sim Seet remembers her mother taking her to visit her grandmother’s grave every April.

The brothers buried their dead with simple headstones on high ground near the phosphate quarries.

The other, the Settlement Chinese Cemetery, is located in the main part of town and is where Ms. Seet mourns. Originally built to meet the needs of the island’s hospital, the cemetery features mostly ornate red-brick armchair-shaped graves.

“Whether you’re mining gold in California or New Zealand, tin in Borneo …… , or mining phosphate on Christmas Island, wherever you are in the world, your wish as a Chinese person is for the remains to be returned to their homeland.” Ms. Bartleson said.

Because granting that wish is both costly and laborious, the brothers have erected tombstones for those buried, inscribed with details of their lives so that they can be remembered by future generations.

“The cemeteries are time capsules of the island’s story, of undiluted authentic culture and spirituality,” Ms. Bartleson said.

“They are largely untouched.”

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