Wednesday, July 3, 2013

SEA Operas: Rites & Ghost Stories

As I heard, the first night of Chinese opera is meant for the 'good brothers'. There is a scene called "Liu Guo Ta Feng Xiang" (六國大封相) that must be performed on the first night to pacify the spirits or very bad things will happen. The 'buka gelanggang' is also an important ritual... I have learnt that from my Thai masters where elaborate offerings must be done to the 'puppet gods' a night before and the food offerings should be buried under a big tree or a designated place the next morning.


Similarly, wayang kulit shows begin with a religious prayer and offerings; it is called “Buka panggung” ritual. We have similar “opening ritual” in Makyong, Chinese opera or puppet shows. Old folks always advise small kids for not to attend the initial show as there will be many spirits around.


Below is a ghost story prevalent amongst the Chinese opera old timers in Hong Kong:


The incident happened just around the 50’s. It was (still is) a custom to setup Chinese opera performances to please the ‘good brothers’ during the 7th lunar month. So this opera crew got an invitation to perform in an isolated location in Guangtong (廣東), China with very strange request: there was only to be one performance after dark. The opera lead was reluctant at first, but due to good reward promised; he obliged.


So they set forth to the location. The opera crew arrived at the place at noon time and they were served lunch by the villagers. It was a small village with not much activity. Since the time was still early, the opera crews were allowed to walk around the village. There were some villagers gambling in a corner so many of the opera crews also participated until it was time for them to prepare for the night performance.


The first performance started after dinner time, as the gongs were struck indicating the commencement of the opera show; the audience starting to be seated in the audience seats.


When the seats are almost filled, the show started with a scene known as “Guan Gong sending siste-in-law” (關公送嫂) . Once the character Guan Gong entered the opera stage, all of the audience retreated to outside of the opera and only returned when Guan Gong exited the stage.


Now the opera lead knew that the audiences were all spirits and they were already deep inside the ghostly realm. There was nothing the leader can do but to continue the show while asking the actor who played Guan Gong to be seated in the back stage as a protection.


Time soon passed and all of the audiences retreated before daybreak.


When the time is right, the opera leader hastened his crews to pack and leave. While everyone was wondering why the rush; some of the crews started to vomit out mud and dirty water. They checked their wallets and found the money they won turned into ‘hell money”.


To their surprised, the outside village had turned into a vast piece of cemetery land without any traces of living souls!


Another story happened in Taiwan:


A puppet crew was paid to perform in a remote area, where show times were only at mid-nights. On second night, the puppet performer noticed all his audience had no legs. He almost scared to death that he had to quit the show immediately. He blamed the director of the local temple who booked his shows, for not telling him that shows were actually for “spiritual good brothers”.   


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