Thursday, December 8, 2016

Teochew Boat Ritual (潮州招魂船)

Boats were used in many cultures as a means to connect the spiritual realm and the human world other than the horses.

In modern day Taoist ritual for sending off evil spirits and bad luck, small paper boats are used. However, in ancient Fujian, Taiwan and coastal areas of China; real ship is used to send off the ‘epidemic lord’ (皇爷) as a symbolic means of sending off epidemic to other regions. This type of practices can still be seen in Taiwan today, and some Malaysian were quick to adapt this type of boat ritual to suit local customs.

On the other hand, in old Malay magic practices; an inspired person who wanted to be a ‘bomoh’ (shaman) would bring an oar to the grave of a pious man and asked for his guidance on a Thursday night. The potential bomoh would paddle his oar as if he is oaring a boat. According to people who had tried this ritual, as the inspired bomoh moves his oars; he would start to see a scene come before him. The bomoh would be as if oaring a boat on a real river until he finally comes to a place where the pious man waits for him. It is from there that the bomoh learns all the trick of trade of becoming a real bomoh.

I have a friend, Khor who is a Teochew and he told me that when he was young; he was asked to participate in a boat ritual to collect lost souls of another friend’s mother, Aunt Ann.

Aunt Ann was said to have died in a freak accident and her soul was believed to have lost her way home so much so that ordinary soul summoning ritual cannot work effectively. So, an old Teochew lady shaman who was almost 90-years-old at that time were hired to perform the soul retrieval ritual. In this ritual, 6 young virgin boys were needed as they are full of ‘yang’ energy.

With the old Teochew shaman sat in front, and the 6 young boys sat on her back: 3 boys on left side and the other 3 on the right. After everyone was sited, the old shaman started to sing and making the action as if rolling a boat. According to Khor, the boys were asked to closed their eyes and unless specifically asked by the lady shaman; no one should open his eyes because the shaman would bring all of them to the underworld to fetch the lost soul. They were warned that during the underworld journey, there were bound to be many lost souls wanted to jump on board the ship; and that anyone who opens his eyes may come face to face with these hideous ghosts. And worse of all, that person maybe possessed by those ghosts and had his soul detained by them.

Bearing those most frightful warning in mind, everyone was shivering with fright. Khor felt his body rolled to right and then left as if he was sitting in the boat. A few moments later, the lady shaman shouted: “Come here Ann!” At this moment, Khor was curious, so he opened his eyes slightly and saw the shaman stood up and grabbed something in front of her. At first, she was facing difficulties in taking control. After some struggles, the shaman finally succeeded in grabbing something with her hands.

Then, the old shaman took out a piece of joss paper and making the gesture as if wrapping something. A few minutes later, she turned her back and passed the wrapping to Khor who was just behind the shaman. She said: “Grab hold of this thing and guard it with your life!” At first, Khor thought the lady shaman had discovered that he had peeped; but the shaman too was closing her eyes as if in a trance. Though in doubt, Khor quietly fetched the paper wrapping and the shaman sang out loud again: “We shall return with Ann now!”

And the old lady shaman repeated to make oaring action again and sang her cryptic songs for another half an hour or so before she announced the mission was a success.

When I asked Khor how did he feel about holding a real soul in his hands. He said: “It was very light and I could feel as if something was indeed moving inside the paper wrapping but perhaps it was just my trembling hands…”

I have not heard of similar ritual being carried out nowadays. One of the reason is it is very hard to find virgin boys lately… Ha! Ha! Ha!

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