Mayashanti5282046’s Blog

自我不在,書寫的都是他者及其他

Beware of man, not hungry ghosts!

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 22, 2008

000019

Sim Kwang Yang | Aug 9, 08 12:15pm

published in Malaysiakini.com

The Gates of Hell have just recently been flung open, and the countless hoards of abandoned homeless hungry ghosts have been released to haunt our neighbourhood, as our Chinese friends began the celebration of the eerie 7th month of their lunar calendar.

MCPX

The Festival of the Hungry Ghosts is one of the major events on the Chinese calendar, and has its roots in the ancient past of China. In my neighbourhood in Cheras, a huge tent has been erected on the car park in front of the shop lots, and daily, the religious rituals of praying for the departed loved ones, offering of goodies to wandering ghosts, and the burning of huge incense sticks go on late into the night.

Every evening, after the devotees have discharged their religious duties, there would be many performances by professional and amateur singers on a make-shift stage, presumably to entertain the world of the spirits. This practice seems to have become the vogue among Malaysian Chinese. In recent past, there have been complaints that the lady singers’ mode of dressing was overtly provocative, and this is not respectful of the occult guests.

How people get to know the preference of visitors from the nether land is a mystery to me. I guess they would have a resident medium in the local temple who can go into a trance and serves as a bridge between our world and theirs.

I used to saunter down to the said tent after sundown, to partake in the community spirit of the neighbourhood, and to enjoy the morsels of roasted pock or chicken that has been offered to the spirits and then given free to everyone. Sometimes, I even try to catch snippets of the singing entertainment. The singing is so bad generally that one wonders if ghosts would not scurry away like the devil with hands firmly pressed against their ears.

I have never seen a ghost

The festivities will officially round off with a grand dinner. A notice announced that a table for ten would cost RM400. You know the Chinese; they celebrate everything with a feast. Throughout the ghostly month though, people will burn incense and paper money by the road side everywhere every night. They seem to take their hungry ghosts quite seriously.

I know what my scientifically minded friends will say about all this jazz. All these practices are remnants of ancient primitive superstitions. There is no such thing as ghosts, they declare.

I do not know whether ghosts exist or not. I have never seen one, though there have been a few occasions in my life when the hair at the back of my neck did stand up and cold shivers ran up and down my body.

But then it is a fact that in every culture all over the world, there are bound to be some ghostly narratives that tell of supernatural phenomena. Most of my friends have a tale or two of encounters of the occult kind. When a gathering of friends begin to take turn remembering their personal experience, it does get scary, especially if the setting is lonely, isolated and dark. I had had many such gatherings in Iban villages in Sarawak.

To the animist Ibans, their surrounding jungles and rivers are alive with all kinds of spirit. In every village, you are bound to find a Manang or a Dukun, wise old people who have been blessed with knowledge of the spiritual world. Sometimes, a villager may have been afflicted by some bad spirit, and he would have to seek help from the medicine men for very special treatment. I have been witness to more than a few such sessions of exorcism, which seem to work. If you can believe it!

In the Chinese world, they have their medium, usually associated with a temple where devotees worship a particular deity. The Chinese have a huge pantheon of various gods, and so such a temple is a common sight in every town and village throughout Malaysia.

One day, a childhood Chinese friend by the name of Ah Toh walked into my office and declared that he had also become a medium. He never went beyond primary school level in the old impoverished days. He made his meagre living in the construction industry, mostly painting newly built houses and shops.

He told me that one day, he slipped and lost his footing while painting on the scaffolding at the second floor of a shophouse. Instead of falling heavily with a thud with fatal consequences, he found himself floating down lightly like a leaf in the breeze! Thereafter, he had had these severe persistent headaches, and no amount of Panadol could relieve his suffering.

Finally, friends advised him to visit the medium in town. He was told that the Rock Deity had decided to anoint him as the vehicle to do some good work. He was trained in all manners of rituals with which he could communicate with the world beyond.

I listened to his story. Having known him all my life, I had no reason to doubt him, though I still remained as an agnostic on matters of ghostly interference in human affairs.

It was about that time that I had to visit a lonely Iban house located in the midst of an abandoned rubber holding at the edge of Kuching City. The large extended family occupy the upper floor that served as the living quarters, while tools, feeds, and fertilizers were stored on the floor below. I used to seek solitude in the ground floor, to meditate upon the changing fortunes of man.

One night, the eight-year-old boy by the name of Ward (Iban short name for Edward) told me excitedly that every Tuesday and Wednesday night, they could not sleep because of strange noise coming from downstairs. All the young children excitedly reported what they heard, sounds like small children running around and banging against the pillars, in the dead of night, when everybody was supposed to be sleeping.

I asked the head of the household – an old Iban man who sometimes treated patients of the occult kind – what was happening. He smiled wryly and said “they” did not disturb him.

But I was worried for the children. So I sought out Ah Toh and implored upon him to investigate the extraordinary activity at the farm house. He consented and did not take long to report back on the progress of his investigation.

Better to play it safe

He had prepared a paper tablet with the scrawl written purportedly by the Rock Deity. He went to the house with the paper tablet over his head, a ritual that enabled him to see things that would be invisible to you and me. There, he discovered three very young ghosts, spirits of the unborn dead. These children ghosts have been wandering through the wilderness, when the open door of the farmhouse seemed like an open invitation for them to take residence.

He had negotiated with these unwelcome visitors. It was better to solve the problem with negotiation, he said, rather than through the brute force of white magic, as some other mediums were wont to do. Ghosts must be treated with respect too, he said. The little ghosts consented and moved out. He also said he did all these without meeting the occupants inside the house.

A few weeks later, I visited the farm house, for another session of story telling and a few rounds of the fiery Iban firewater, the langkau. I asked Ward and his young cousins if they had heard strange noises emitting from downstairs in the dead of night. I was deeply satisfied when they told me the strange phenomenon had ceased a short while ago. So Ah Toh must have done his work well.

So you see, though I am still not certain if ghosts exist or not, I am sure not going to go out lone in the middle of the night in this Month of the Hungry Ghosts, and issue a loud challenge for the spirits to possess me. It is always better to play it safe.

Then I begin to wonder. Why would the Chinese choose to host the grand Olympic Games in the middle of this ghostly month? I know communists are atheists, and probably do not believe in ghosts. Perhaps they believe all that fireworks will frighten away visitors from hell.

Then again, I remember what an old Iban man told me once. There is nothing to fear from ghosts. Human beings can do much more harm to their fellowmen than all the ghosts in hell. Watching the antiques of politicians engaged in plots and counter-plots in Malaysia, I will have to admit this little dictum has indeed more than a grain of truth!

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