Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Entering House (生人入屋)

Since it is approaching Qingming (清明) period, let’s talk about some very interesting funeral practices amongst Chinese ethnics. For example for Fujian (福建) and Chaozhou (潮州) there used to be a practice called ‘entering house’ (生人入屋) ritual.

The practice is such that if a person died outside of the house, when the corpse is brought back to the house, if the deceased is a father, then the coffin guy would knock on the door and says: “Papa is back.” After that, the corpse is placed in a chair and the children in the sequence of the elder son, the second and the third in sequence must use a tablespoon to feed their father tea. While doing so, they should call out: “Papa, drink tea.” Then it would be the turn of the elder daughter and grandchildren. Of course, the eldest son is the most important.

After the tea drinking ceremony, all red clothes should be changed into white and the family altar should be covered. Then the corpse is changed into graveclothes before it is being put into a coffin.

Another important point to note is that when the corpse is being carried into the house, the coffin should be placed a far out of sight of the family members. Only after the house altar is fully covered that the coffin is allowed in.

Having said so, the ‘entering house’ ritual is not suitable for burnt or decayed corpses.

This is a story told by a customer:

A customer Ah Kow is a Fujian. His grandmother passed away some years ago and the ‘entering house’ ritual was not followed because Ah Kow’s father didn’t like the idea of propping up dead body by them into the house; even it was the mother. So this ‘entering house’ section is skipped.

Soon it was the ‘soul returning’ (回魂) of Ah Kow’s grandma and as usual the children were chased to bed early. Somewhere around midnight, Ah Kow suddenly wanted to pee. So he went out of his bedroom and proceeded towards the toilet.

In order to go to toilet, Ah Kow must first pass through the living room where the house altar is situated. This was also the place where food offerings were made for the returning soul to enjoy.

Just a moment after Ah Kow entered the living room, he suddenly heard a few knocks on the main door. This followed by the most familiar voice of his deceased grandma:

“Ah Kow… Ah Kow… open the door and let me in! The house gods had refused my entry…”

Due to curiosity than fear, Ah Kow peeped through the door seams and saw his grandma stood by the door stiff and as pale as a piece of white paper.

After a while the calling continued and the begging changed into curse…

Without hesitation, Ah Kow quickly ran back into his bedroom and jumped into his bed. He covered his head with blanket shivering. On that night, he peed in his bed for the first time due to fright.

Ah Kow had kept this secret until he told me one day. Later I performed an obstacle removal ritual for the poor grandma who missed her last dinner.

Perhaps some ritual are meant to stay after all… that is if you don’t want the deceased to starve before departure to the other side. 

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