All photos by FORTHX
The significance placed on the Hungry Ghost Festival is unique to the Straits Chinese population of Malaysia and Singapore, but the cultural significance of the festival is waning, due to the modernisation occurring in the region.
A silent audience; a brightly lit lorry parked in the middle of the crossroad of a Chinese cemetery. Although the audience can’t be seen, the singers sing their hearts out for the dead.
The Tang Ki [spirit mediums] operate out of a 3-room public housing flat in Hougang (Singapore). They are asked to tell fortunes, give blessings and communicate with the deceased.
Preparations being made for the deity to enter the bodies of the Tang Ki [Spirit mediums]. The preparations are a crucial process, where respect is shown to the deity by offering up joss sticks and prayers for a safe journey in the evening, when the spirits are free to roam.
The deities being invoked in the ceremony are brothers in the supernatural world. The same holds true for the spirit mediums, who are brothers by blood.The mediums travel to other temples to pay their respects to the other deities, and to mingle with the other Tang Ki, so as to establish their presence in that region.
In the netherworld, the deity has subordinates to accomplish minor duties, it’s no different from the world we are familiar with. Basic duties like the donning of ceremonial headpieces and robes. To make the deity feel comfortable, the Tang Ki tries to dress in similar clothes.
Candy and tibits are thrown into the pit of burning offerings for the stillborn, departed toddlers and aborted babies, to ensure they are fed. Most of the parents wish to forget about the tragedies from their pasts. The children lost to death are said to wander the streets aimlessly during the period of the festival.
Packets of vegetarian food are placed on every tombstone, with lit candles signalling to the deceased that there is food for them to consume.
To start the ritual, the Tang Ki lie beside the tomb, with their subordinates chanting for the deity to possess them.
An emcee is hired by the organisers to host the show, ensuring laughter all around for the elderly audience. Goofing around is part of the act.
Candles and joss sticks light up the walkway leading to where the offerings are placed, letting the deceased know that there are offerings for them to consume.
The offerings are stacked approximately 3 meters high. The TangKi call upon the deceased, to let them know that they will start the burning, giving the dead time to come forth and collect the offerings from the afterlife.