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Travel Ghosts On A Roll


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004

Spending time with wandering spirits can be fun as the Ghost Month celebrations in Taiwan show.

It's a summer pleasant evening amid the centuries-old buildings and beautifully carved and decorated red temples. People of all ages are busy lighting fires, burning paper money, lighting incense sticks and offering eatables to their ‘Good Brothers'.

It is ‘Ghost Month' in Taiwan dedicated to paying respect to and making sacrifices to the ghosts and spirits of the other world. This is linked to the belief that the dead become spirits or ghosts roaming between Heaven and Earth. For one full month every year - the seventh month of the lunar calendar - these spirits get to return.

How do I tell my group that I am actually getting goose bumps? Kau, our driver, says I am not the only one feeling the ghosts; he can actually see them.

Colourful scene

The streets are lit up with colourful paper lanterns and balloons, folk tableaus and parades are in full swing, drumming troupes, lion parades, stilt walking, dancing, singing and martial arts performance. My friends and I are rushing to the site of a spectacular extravaganza in Taipei County, Keelung.

David, our young dynamic Protocol Officer, tells us to run or else we will miss the most wonderful fireworks. We jostle among hundreds of people lined up on the streets and reach the VIP enclosure to find we're sharing the space with their young good-looking President. The sky is enveloped in thousands of lovely colours as the fireworks begin their magic. Soon the President takes the opening salute.

While I am busy admiring him, I am distracted by one maniac holding a protest banner right in the middle of the parade. But this does not detract from the glorious show: three hours of uninterrupted entertainment aimed at appeasing visiting ancestors and wandering spirits...

At midnight, the scene shifts to the port of Keelung. It is time for “Releasing of the Water Lanterns”. The beach is packed with people; some are swimming, ready to perform the ceremony. Decorated paper houses full of paper furniture and money are lifted to the shore and, after lighting a fire, are gently launched into the sea where they float before sinking. This is meant as a message to the spirits: there is home for them so they need not wander around homeless.

Final curtain

Then it's time for the final curtain: the “Snatching of the Flag” competition in Toucheng, Yilan County. Teams of young men compete to climb up greased poles and bamboo lattices to “grapple with ghosts”.

Finally, Ghost Month concludes with “Closing of the Ghost Gate”, held at dusk on the 29th day of the month. Food is offered as a ‘farewell dinner' for drifting souls. This is the last supper to be enjoyed among the living and a sign to return to their world. Interestingly, one table has loads of goodies for friends and family ghosts and another has less for ‘enemy' ghosts.

It is time to dismantle the lantern poles at the temples. Now, temples invite Zhongkuei, a special deity who protects the living from evil spirits, to escort unwilling spirits back to their own world. This final ritual completes the month of fun and freedom enjoyed by the spirits and keeps the living safe and undisturbed.

“When you ‘honour brothers' you are bound to get more peace and happiness in life,” explained one elderly man. In the 1600s, settlers from China came to Taiwan to establish their own homes. Many died far from home with no one to bury them or perform the necessary ceremonies and thereby became rootless, wandering ghosts. As a result, other settlers began to honour them to ensure their own peace.

This reminds me of the shraadh in India. With that thought of a common thread of faith and tradition across borders, I return.

Did You Know?

Ghost Festival is celebrated mostly in South China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.

Chinese families celebrate this festival to remember dead family members and pay tribute to them. They also pay tribute to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls will not intrude into their daily life and bring along misfortunes or bad luck.

It is considered bad to go swimming during the Ghost month. They think that an evil ghost might cause you to drown. Children are advised to return home early and not to wander around alone at night

This month is inauspicious for marriage, business ventures, moving house or even travelling

Offerings are made by burning fake money, paper television or radio sets, paper houses and cars



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