Tuesday, September 1, 2009

the hungry ghost month

the hungry ghost month is still quite widely celebrated in singapore. i have come across quite a number of tents and performance stages erected or being erected, especially, in hdb estates. in geylang, which i visited on monday, in practically every other lane, there is some form of celebration.

i remember, as children, we were quite ambivalent about the hungry ghost month.

we looked forward to it because of the sumptious food and the entertainment part of the celebration. in the early years, the celebration took the form of chinese wayang staged for one or two days, depending on the funds available. in lean years, it was in the form of hand-held puppet theatre. this eventually gave way to the one-night getai performance.

however, there were the restrictions that came into force during the seventh month. as children, we quite wary of the unseen that were supposed to be roaming all around us. they were kindly referred to as 'good brothers'. we were not allowed to go swimming; not just at the public swimming pools but there was also to be no swimming in the sea, canal or pond. we were warned that the water ghost (chwee kui) would drag us into the deep.

we also had to be home early - before it got too dark - because our mothers did want us to be nabbed by some wandering spirits. generally, there was some sort of curfew during this not so auspicious month. however, we could watch wayang or getai right up to the end of the performance.

in connection with the celebration in my old kampong, there would also be a dinner for all those who have made the once-off monetary contribution to the celebration. it was also just before the dinner celebration that the ' keeper of the urn' and 'deputy keeper' were picked. in the course of the dinner, there would be an auction of all the blessed objects and foodstuff. the money raised from this auction would be used to subsidise the cost of the next year's celebration.

everyone had an equal chance to be one of these holders of position - the keeper and the deputy keeper. the names of all those who have contributed towards the celebration would have been written on a piece of rolled paper. these slips of paper would be put in a container and shook in front of the offering table. the names on the two rolled slips that were shaken out and 'approved' would be the holders.

as there was no fixed home for the worshop items, especially the two urns for joss-sticks at the altar, these would be left in the safekeeping of the keeper and the deputy keeper until the next year's celebration.

for $80 (this year's amount), a participant would take home a red pail of goodies, with a triangular paper flag stuck in it. in those kampong days, we children enjoyed playing with the flags, imagining ourselves as some courageous warriors. apart from the goodies, there was a sit-down dinner and the getai for entertainment.

when i was older, i would represent my mother at the dinner. my father never liked attending any formal function. i would be there just to eat; i did not ever place a bid for any of the auction items.

i asked those who were involved in the organisation how the money collected was sufficient to cover goodies, dinner and entertainment. some of the money for the dinner was raised from auctioning the blessed items. in the past, the top money spinning item was the 'black gold'. 'black gold' refers to a large chunk of charcoal. it could fetch as much as $10K; today, this item has lost its lustre. for the wayang or getai to be staged, a rich benefactor or a few of them would have to come forward as sponsors.

according to one organiser, the amount raised from the auction has shrunk over the years. at the same time, cost has also gone up. the cost for erecting the stage and the sheds takes up about $5k. the cost of the getai is also about $5k. the getai is usually sponsored by a number of people who contribute varying amount.

other beliefs related to the seventh month include not moving house during this one month period. if you are wondering why you have never been invited to any chinese wedding this month, here this is the answer. it is taboo for chinese to get married during the seventh lunar month.

individual families usually offer prayers on the 1st, 15th and last days of the 7th lunar month. but those organised on a community scale can be held on any day of that month. the day will be decided by committee with consultation with the 'spirits'.

the proper name for this chinese festival is zhong yuan jie.


Victor said...

Everyone pantang. Nobody dares to comment.

Anonymous said...

Choy! This topic could be taboo to some. Who knows what lurks behind the shadows, at this time of the year?

The very mention of the word 'ghosts', and especially 'hungry', gives me the creeps.

Sungguh seram!

Uncle Phil said...

I was told that pole dancing is becoming a popular attraction to the getai scene.Things must have changed so much since I left. In those days, the star attraction and crowd puller for getai were Wong Sa and Yeh Fong doing their comedy skits on stage. Well, I have to take my hat off to the entrepreneur spirit of the getai organisers to cash in and cater for the living "Hum Sub Kwei",too. Haha

yg said...

victor and anonymous, when it comes to buying houses, quite a number of people appear to choose practicality over superstition. you must have read about the long queue of people to buy the trevista condo in toa payoh recenty.

PChew said...

Your picture of printed dragon flags reminded me as a kid when my grand-mother was offering prayer on Zhong Yuan Jie. There would be many such paper flags of different designs stuck on each article of cooked food, fruit, rice wine and others. I like the dragon flag most and waited eagerly for the prayer to end and grab the flags.

nah said...

Last evening, I had some fun watching a getai at Upper Changi Rd. One Taiwanese singer was asked whether they have pole dancing in their getai, as it is now getting popular here. She said this was a thing of the past. Nowadays, getai singers perform striptease shows, removing their apparel piece by piece as they sing, until they are completely bare. She said that there was one occasion where a young man organised a getai for his grandfather’s funeral wake. Some singers sang and removed their clothes. The compere abruptly interrupted and asked her, “did the dead ‘lau yeh yeh’ stand up?”