June 21, 2024

My travels to Xiamen with Chi Jian Li gave me a chance to observe up close and personal ancient traditions carried out even in this modern times.
In ancient China, people believed in ghosts, spirits, hell, and gods.
The first time I set foot in the province in 1992, the family home was typically peasant, stones carved into walls and more like the structures seen in Chinese movies.
At night, the old folks would squat and tell stories while puffing the mandatory cigarette and sipping tea. Here, the lore and the legend say a Chinaman who dies in peace would reincarnate from the heavens, while criminals or those who die accidentally would become ghosts wandering in the mortal world. Evil spirits come to disturb living souls, causing their death in crime, disasters, and accidents. That’s why this class of persons who go away unexpectedly is tagged “taken away by ghosts,”those who go straight to hell where they will meet familiar friends like politicians, lawyers, and policemen.
Two decades after, the home, now a seven-story building with elevators and all luxuries worthy of a Taipan son, has the same inhabitants who still consistently talk about ghosts, especially now. The house blessing was grand, as David charted one whole plane for family and friends to witness his monument to his parents. I asked,“Do ghosts use the elevators?” And he says nonchalantly, “Yes, to lift their spirits!” Sakwa!
Today, Sunday, the 8th is the start of the Chung-Yuan or the Chinese Ghost Festival, which will run until Sept. 6.
In the legend, the seventh lunar month of August (Au-ghost) is the dreaded one. On the first ghostday, the gates of hell opens and the spirits roam around for a month. To show respect, the living must have a “sacrifice ceremony,” offering a sumptuous meal or fruits and desserts.
On the second ghostday, shops and government offices do the same ceremony praying for safety with a plea that no mysterious event happens to anyone.
On the 15th ghostday, the tradition continues with the Zhongyuan Festival where in the early morning or late night, ghosts supposedly get together and evil spirits reach the peak. Again, I ask David, “Do ghosts walk into the bar at 4 a.m.? The bartender would say, “Sorry, we don’t serve spirits, after 3.” Again, sakwa!
The 15th is the day the Chinese burn (paper) money as offerings to ancestors and ghosts, similar to our cañao. On the last day, the Gates of Hell close and ghosts return from Earth. More sacrifice offerings are made to pray for eternal safety. They burn more money at the roadside, set lanterns or worship good brothers. The ceremony for the spirits would help them escape from hell at an early date and prevent them from disturbing the living beings on Earth.
To avoid bad luck, many no-nos come with the ghost month. One cannot buy, renovate, or move houses; enter into contracts or get married, no wearing of clothes with your name, no patting other people on the shoulder, no whistling or at night, no going out for children and senior citizens because they will be attacked by the evil spirits, who reach their peak. No to water bodies, especially sea, and definitely no risks and supernatural games, especially in the night of the festival.
The ancient Chinese people believed natural and man-made disasters will be frequent during the seventh lunar month, hence their fears and cultural custom of avoiding anything and everything prevails. To minimize the evil effects, they resort to amulets, prayer beads, coarse salt, glutinous rice, cross, and lodestones. Of course, in present modern society, the taboos fail to stand the test of time, and even Onyok would not be able to explain with science.
Better part of prudence says better to believe the customs, especially if life can be normally lived, or one feels at ease regardless of the effect. Wala naman mawawala, says David.
And the final sakwa: If the elder has a son who is a priest dies, people will write on his tomb – The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Sigh.