In the mood for the annual Ching Ming or grave clearing ritual, let me impart some Chinese funeral rituals that are getting rarer each day. I bet this is an interesting topic to read! Everyone loves horror stories and stuffs about the underworld. The followings are Taoists funeral rituals.
So, have you ever wondered why some Chinese funerals seem louder, more dramatic than others? Do you know that long, long time ago, people actually hired mourners to just sit at funerals and cry? Not cry but wailing and sobbing, pounding on chest, kneeling on floor and punching the ground? I kid you not. I remembered one neighbour had that kind of funeral when I was a kid. The coffin was made of a whole chunk of tree trunk and it curves at both ends. Spooooky….
When my father-in-law passed away, my hubby just started working and cash were tight. We spent a huge sum on his medical fees and were totally broke by then. Moreover, the filial son and I decided to get married before he died so that he could see his favourite son getting hitched! And he got to drink the ‘sam pou char’ or tea served by the daughter-in-law.
Old man did not leave a single property so we had to foot all the bills. So, old man had a simple funeral but a grand tombstone because he was the first person to be buried in the new burial ground. Sort of like king of the hill.
Mother-in-law was very proud of that ‘king of the hill’ status and lamented that we cannot afford to make the biggest grave for him. It costs us about RM15K (which was the figure we could afford then) but we had the liberty of making as big a grave as we wanted. King of the hill has unlimited land to build his grave but we were poor beyond anything.
When mother-in-law died, we were in better financial position then and in order to please the old lady, I went on splurging for her funeral. I noticed that she actually enjoyed watching other funeral wakes and told me how ‘lau juak (merry) so and so’s funeral was. Since my husband was the main paymaster for the funeral, we were able to make the decisions. (In case you do not know, usually, the next of kins tend to argue over funeral arrangements. Next time, tell them whoever holds the wallet, decide. The rest just follow. Heh.)
We had a Taoist funeral complete with a Chinese opera! It costs us RM4K just for the two hour
show ceremony and the huge, paper bungalow, paper Mercedes with paper servants.
Firstly, we had the ‘cure the deceased’ ceremony. It was actually an ‘honour’ meant for the eldest daughter-in-law (dil). I am the last, fourth dil. But for some personal reasons, dil no. 1 and no. 3 weren’t keen to participate in the prayer. (psstt..they didn’t get along with the old lady 🙂 I think)
Here comes the funny part. The Taoist priest conducted a ceremony whereby these two Chinese opera girls went up the hill to pluck herbal medicines for the deceased. This was depicted by them struggling and walking, you know, opera style. The two girls cried and cried till their nose dripped sticky goo! OMG, can you imagine them, peering at me (who was then manning a charcoal fire and boiling water) every few seconds with their sticky mucous almost dropping on my face? I was so worried the goo dropped on my face!
I had to kneel and fan the fire. And I MUST sob! Fuwah, I had cold feet before the ceremony. As I said earlier the task is supposed to be the eldest daughter in law’s. So, at the last minute when both of the elder ones had escaped, I had to do the
show filial duty. I admit my mother in law’s death was no longer a tragic occasion by then because she had been in coma for the last 1+ years. Moreover, she was 80 years old.
There I was, facing the whole entourage of my mother-in-law’s descendants. She got 4 daughters, 4 sons, whom most of them are in their 50s and 60s and a string of great-grandchildren. Friends and neighbours were crowding around to see this ceremony as most people do not practice them anymore.
Tension was great as how much and dramatic we sobbed projected how great and grand the old lady was.
So, I kept mustering all the saddest thoughts I could remember just so that I could at least have a tear. And it wasn’t easy. Finally, I imagined that it was my own mother’s funeral and yeah! I broke into tears! (my mom died a few years before mil) Phewss….wipe cold sweats.
The two Chinese opera girls then plucked the herbal medicine, which is actually a sprig of guava plants. They took the leaves for me to be boiled in the claypot. I sobbed and cried and fanned. I tell ya, I probably could outshined Slyvia Chang or Azean Irdawarty (two actress famous for crying scenes) in the crying department.
After I finished cooking the ‘medicine’ it was served to my mother-in-law. From then on, it was supposed to heal the old lady.
Ok, disclaimer – There is nothing funny about someone’s funeral. But what we did then, was more to please my late mother-in-law. Though most of the stuffs were comical to us, we also know that she would have been pleased to know that we gave her a grand send-off. The best that we can afford with our hard-earned money. (gosh, now I remembered my sons intentionally burnt holes in the Taoist priest robe as he was clanging the bells and chanting. His backside was facing us, we were kneeling with joss-sticks in our hands. OMG, it is so funny we almost rolled on the floor laughing our A off.)
– Next, part two : Sons and grandsons sending the deceased to her destination. Involves fighting through some China city and climbing walls. Plus descendants crossing bridges. (roll eyes and almost fall off chair on the comical part of it)