Friday, January 20, 2017
Paper Manikins (纸扎公仔)
The 15th day of 7th month in lunar calendar is termed as the Chinese ‘Ghost Month’ which is a misnomer of Chinese Buddhist Ullambana (盂兰盆). During this time, Buddhist monks would make elaborate food offerings and recite prayers to the three gems for the deliverance of those suffering sentient beings. Originally this is a Buddhist specific event, Taoists somehow adapted this event and made it theirs with their own form of stories. Gradually, the 7th month became the Chinese ‘Ghost Month’ where hungry ghosts roam the human world for one whole month. As time goes by, many taboos and ghost stories related to Ghost Month are being told and retold over the time until today.
Below is a story told by a Malay ‘makcik’ (aunty) selling ‘pisang goreng’ (deep fried banana) in Bukit Mertajam, Penang.
As we all know, Penang is a ‘holy’ place for religious activities with Bukit Mertajam being the main focal point. If you don’t believe me, then take a tour to Bukit Mertajam and you would be surprised what you can find. Now, coming back to the story proper…
Mak Ngah is a Malay hawker selling deep fried foods in Bukit Mertajam market just opposite to a Taoist temple. She opened her business throughout the years even during the lunar 7th month. Of course, as a Muslim; Mak Ngah is not interested in the Ghost Month matters.
Having said so, during one of those ghost months a few years ago, the temple opposite Mak Ngah’s food stall was having a ceremony to pacify those hungry ghosts. Many food stuffs and paper manikins of green and red colours were brought to site for the occasion. As usual, ceremonies meant for the ghosts are only held at night. So, the place became somehow hectic when night fell then.
Unlike other festivals, festival for ghosts is not a popular event for human beings. Consequently, there were only a few turn outs living the ceremony to a handful Taoists. Unfortunately speaking, Mak Ngah was oblivious of this as she thought many people would attend to the ceremony and patronised her ‘pisang goreng’. It was really to her disappointment at first to find not many people in around the temple after dark.
As there were not so many customers, Mak Ngah started to observe the activities in the temple. Then, she saw many people in green and red moved around in the temple following the master Taoist. Per Mak Ngah, the red ones were all young ladies while the green ones were young men. These folks had only one thing in common: they all had two red big spots on their cheeks.
After the weird red-green folks danced for a while, they came out of the temple and walked towards Mak Ngah’s stall. Mak Ngah was very happy as she thought there came her first business of the evening.
As expected, Mak Ngah sold all her ‘pisang goreng’ and other foods in a jiffy. When asked for the money, one of the young men pointed his finger at an elderly man in the temple meaning to get the money from him. Since Mak Ngah knew the old man well, she nodded and waited until the old man came out. Those weird looking folks returned to the temple leaving Mak Ngah waiting at her stall for her payment.
Just as when Mak Ngah had run out of her patient, then around 9pm; the old man known as Uncle Sam came out.
Mak Ngah quickly approached Uncle Sam and greeted him: “Hey, Ah Pek! Your people owed me $50 for the pisang goreng just now. They asked me to get the money from you!”
Staring at Mak Ngah stunted, Uncle Sam replied: “What pisang goreng!? And what my people!? There were only four old Taoists chanting and walking inside the temple tonight!”
Feeling disbelieved and as she thought this Uncle Sam wanted to find an excuse to wriggle his way off, Mak Ngah started to describe the odd looking young men and ladies. Then suddenly, Uncle Sam started to realise that what Mak Ngah said referred to those green and red paper manikins burnt to the spirits as servants and maids!
Still unconvinced, Uncle Sam told Mak Ngah to wait as he need to return to the temple for the money.
After Uncle Sam was in the temple, he went to the furnace where the paper manikins were burnt.
To his surprised, Uncle Sam found many charred and half burnt deep fried bananas in the furnace!
Half-an-hour later, Uncle Sam returned to Mak Ngah with pale face. He said:
“Mak Ngah, kau dah nampak hantu!!”
(Mak Ngah, you had seen ghosts!!)
Mak Ngah told me her story when I visited her stall to buy her ‘pisang goreng’. Jokingly she asked:
“Lu orang ka? Hantu ka?”
(Are you human or ghost?)
So I said: “Orang ka? Hantu Ka? I nak pisang goreng $2!” (Whether or not I am a ghost, I want $2 of fried banana!)