End Notes

1 Rosie Tan's study (1958) deals with "kramats" as local shrines dedicated to honored spirit deities, marking often the graves of local holy men or founding fathers, and the more popular of which attract a great many pilgrims and supplicants. Private "kramats" do not have a "Dato Kramat" and therefore require a spirit medium to call upon and intercede with the spirits on behalf of the worshippers. Worshippers beseech the advice and aid of the Dato Kramats for a variety of reasons--for husbands, for children, for health, or for information.

I attended with my wife and her friends a "birthday party" for a local Malay deity. The party went for three days straight and was attended by numerous Chinese, many of whom were quite respectable and well-off. The spirit medium was a Chinese man dressed in the outfit of a Malay bomoh. It was conducted in a Chinese home in which the Shrine had been erected. The birthday was given for the benefit of children who had been born with handicaps. Many Chinese attended and gave offerings of donations in exchange for talismans. Food was served freely--nasi kunyit (yellow rice cooked with coconut milk), chicken curry, beehoon. No pork was served--the food was cooked in brand new pots and pans for purity. The Datuk smoked "cheroot," a heavy Malay cigar, and went into a trance, danced the "ronggeng" with Malay dancing girls as well as with Chinese. There was a Malay band. The datok performed "automatic writing"--giving talismans. People kept note of what he would mark upon the ground--word of each number spreading through the crowd like wildfire. An older Chinese matron went into a trance and began dancing--becoming the focal point for the audience. The ceremony would last from evening until midnight. In the morning there were prayer sessions which people would randomly visit. Many people there were very traditionally Chinese, yet the Malay elements, the structure of the whole ceremony, and the syncretism of the event, its spiritual importance for a larger urban community, could not be ignored.

Robert Winzeler records a similar celebration (1983:21-2), as does Tan Chee-Beng in his description of the Peranakan Chinese from the same area, but as a Hokkien festival incorporating Thai elements of the menora (1982:42).

The menora or "Nora Chatri," is a local Thai-Malay folk dance form that derived from the Sudhana-Manohra tale of the Jatakas. Its features and associated beliefs are strongly linked to animistic and shamanistic orientations "upon which the Sudhana-Manohra" story has been planted" (Yousof 1982:53; Khoo 1990:20-24; Tan 1990:16-19).

The dance lasts for three consecutive nights, and is performed for ritual occasions as well as for entertainment. Part of the performance involves an opening trance session in which performers and non-performers participate to the rhythms of the gamelan music which slowly and steadily increases its tempo. The trancer is possessed by a local spirit who descends to take possession of the trancer's body. The trance state involves a noticeable change in behavior--shivering, sometimes violent behavior, and the name of the possessing spirit is revealed. Following the trance session are the presentations of sets of lakons, or plays, by the menora dancers.

My wife was taken by her mother to one of these dances in Penang held by Peranakans (creole Chinese-Malay) in a local town. She went every year. It was attended mostly by Chinese, except for a Malay man who had married a Chinese. They attended all three days. The musical instruments would begin around 10:00 in the morning, breaking only for lunch and dinner, and quitting late, after midnight. Everyday the "gaku" in charge would go into trance, in the morning, and again in the evening, everyday of the performance. He would sit on the floor cross-legged, to enter the trance. This is a typical Malay way. He would wear a Malay shawl, chew sireh, and put Malay tobacco into his mouth. People would consult him for their problems. Donations were given voluntarily outside in a box. Different deities would possess him--speaking Thai or Malay for the respective deities. An older brother always acted as the interpreter. The last spirit to enter him would be a tiger--crawling around the floor, picking up food that is given as offerings, and pointing at people to give the food to--so that everyone who is related to him gets something.

2 A friend wanted to give us this ceremony while in Malaysia because of a small streak of misfortunes we had been having. My wife gave me a variant of the same bath during a later period in which we were having a run of hard times. She mixed the flower petals from seven different kinds of flowers, and cut half a lime, and poured the water over my head three times. "The client or the person on whose behalf the client sought the spirit medium's help, has to have a bath including a hair wash before taking a ritual bath. The lime is squeezed and the juice is then poured over the body of the person. The spirit medium stresses that the pulp of the lime must be thrown away after the ritual bath (Ng 1983:118).

3 The fifteenth night,

We invite our ancestor's to come and drink tea,

The tea is very hot,

We walk and buy bananas,

We forgot to peel the bananas,

We walk and buy books,

We forgot to read the books,

We walk and buy the ink stone,

We forgot to grind the ink stone,

We walk and buy a snake,

We forgot to catch the snake,

We walk and buy wooden clogs,

We forget to wear the wooden clogs,

We walk and buy the Mina birds,

Male Mina bird, Female Mina bird,

Dead children, push it all down.

(scolding children for knocking all the prayer things down)


4 Chinese believe that when a person is very ill, it is because they are "haun tuek" (met with evil spirits). "Kiow kia" means "chasing out the evil spirit."


5 Graves

Graves at the largest Chinese cemetery on the island were counted over a three week period during the first part of April for a week before and a couple of weeks following what is known as "Cheng Beng." The purpose behind the count was to see the ratio of graves visited compared to those which remained unvisited during this season. Visited graves were relatively easy to identify, with the paper money, joss sticks, candles and other votive offerings left there after the visitation. Unvisited graves were easy to identify not only for the lack of these leftovers, but also from the general lack of up keep, the overgrown state of the weeds and the grass, of the grave itself.

Overall, out of 40 counts of an average of 92.9 graves per count (3717 total) an average of about 34.1 were visited (1,363 total), about 36.8% of the total. The period was divided into the first ten days and the subsequent seven days. In the first period, a total of 20 counts had an average of 114.85 graves per count and an average of 31.5 visited graves (27.43%). In the second period, a total of 20 counts had an average of 71 graves per count and an average of 36.65 graves visited (61.82 %). It can be seen that by the last week of this three week period, the number of visited graves goes from just over a quarter to just under 2/3's of the total number of graves counted. This difference between visited and unvisited graves is significant well past the .001 level with a Chi square test of 114.47.

It is interesting that newer graves could also be distinguished from the older grave sites, and that for the first two weeks average visitation of the new grave sites was 23.68%, but jumps up to 84.32% by the last week. On the other hand, older grave sites are visited 28% during the first two weeks, and go up to 46.72% in the last week. These differences between older and newer visited and unvisited grave sites are all significant with the Chi square test past the .001 level. The greater variability of the old grave sites visited is accountable for because of the different locations of old graves counted--some of the oldest sections of the cemetery remained unvisited compared with newer sections.

It can be interpreted that more than 3/4s of the newer graves are visited, and these graves represent mostly second or third generation ascending. The older grave sites which fall to less than 50 percent visited represent the termination line between third and fourth generations ascending. It seems that actual ancestor worship and filial piety extend back at most to the third generation, but quickly falls away by the fourth generation. As an informant told us, too old is not good, great grandparents will eat one's children. If we allow about 25 years for each generation, we can assume that graves over 75 years of age will most likely be forgotten, and that graves over 50 years old will have only a 50 percent chance of being visited, whereas grave sites less than 25 years old will have a 2/3's to 3/4 percent chance of being visited. Children remember their parents, and widowers their spouses and siblings, but with each successive generation this memory lapses. Another qualitative difference between older and newer graves are that among the older sites there are many grand tombs, with many very humble markers scattered in between. With newer sites there is greater uniformity in both style of construction and in the laying out. Space is more precious and the density of graves is greatly increased.

6 Similar to "siang poay," which uses to blocks of wood for speaking with the Gods, "pak puay" uses two coins for speaking with ones ancestors. Heads and tails are an affirmative response. "Two tails shows that it (the ancestor) is amused, but it is not ready to stop eating. Two heads signify that it is annoyed at being hurried" (Chia 1994:29-30). It is not wise to hurry ones ancestors when eating.

7 Purcell (1948:120-2) makes extensive reference to the origin of the Goddess of Mercy, who is the counterpart of the Taoist goddess "T'ien Hou Sheng Mu" or "Holy Mother, Queen of Heaven," from 2587 B. C., and who is derived from the Buddhist Bodhisattva Avalokiteswara, from India. She shares many affinities with the Virgin Mary."Her chief sanctuary in China is at P'u T'o Island off the coast of Chekiang. In the household shrine she is a favourite deity. In Penang there are three temples dedicated to her and she has images in most other temples. In Malacca Kwan Yin's temple is called T'sing Wan Ting, or Blue Clouds Temple" (Purcell 1948:122).

8 If a woman dies in childbirth, then her spirit is always in a vat of blood. If the child survives and grows up and becomes married, only then can they pray and bring her out. If the mother and child die, her other children can bring her out. If there are no children, then her siblings can do it for her.

9 We talk with the son of the secretary of the association and we are told to wait. We hear from an informant that when his father held the urn he won the lottery and became very rich, so that is why his son, who lives outstation (in the hinterland), started coming to pray here. The eyes of all the gods are covered with paper so they cannot see out.

10 "Siang poay"--two kidney shaped, palm-sized divination blocks, one side flat, the other rounded, used for "speaking" with the Gods. They are repeatedly thrown up in the air, and until one flat side is up and the other down. This is taken as an "affirmative" response by the God ("open and shut") otherwise the God says "no" or is laughing.

11 There is no limit on the number of roasted pigs. The cost of each pig is at least RM $100 to RM $200, and sometimes over RM $300. The smaller the pig the more expensive it is. The larger the pig the cheaper (per kati). One about the size of a small 2x3 foot coffee table will cost about RM $220. They calculate the size of the pig in katis.