TRADITIONAL FUNERALS by kul15652

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									192                            NOTES AND QUERIES


                 TRADITIONAL FUNERALS


     Apart from the ta tsiu, the most significant ritual acts within the
traditional New Territories village were those marking the death of an
adult villager. The ritual of such funerals differed in detail from area to
area, but seem to follow basically the same form everywhere. The tradi-
tional funeral was a matter of importance not only to the bereaved family
but to the whole village. The ritual alternated between formal religious
acts, led by Taoist priests, and village customs, led by the elderly men
and women of the village.
     Traditional funerals are becoming rarer, rituals are being simplified
to follow the pattern set by the modern style funerals in the City, and
the willingness of villagers outside the circle of the immediately bereaved
to assist in the rites is less automatic than in the past. There is, therefore,
a need to record the funeral ritual used while there are still opportunities
to witness it in operation. Miss Barbara Ward, and Dr. David Faure of
the Chinese University together with the author of this note were
privileged to record at length a recent traditional funeral in Tai Wai
Village, Sha Tin; it is hoped that this record will be published in an
appropriate form soon. In the meantime a brief indication of the ritual
with some photographs, (plates 4—13) is published here as a general
guide to the main features of a New Territories traditional Punti funeral.
The photographs were taken by Mr. Liu Yun-sum, of Sheung Shui
Village, the current First Vice-Chairmanof the New Territories Heung Yee
Kuk, in 1953, at the funeral of his father, Mr. Liu On-wai, and are
published here with Mr. Liu Yun-sum's kind consent. Mr. Liu On-wai was
the son and grandson of Ch'ing dynasty village headmen; he and his
brother had been educated to the best standards available in Sheung Shui.
His elder brother, indeed, became a Sau Ts'oi degree holder and taught
in the village school. Mr. Liu On-wai himself went into trade, selling foot-
stuffs and roast meats from a shop in Sheung Shui market: he was 76
years old at his death. The photographs, therefore, are of the funeral of
a well connected and moderately wealthy, but neither particularly rich
nor powerful villager.
     The funeral ritual began everywhere immediately on the death. Elders
of the clan and village washed, dressed and prepared the corpse, while
the women of the bereaved family sang wailing songs. Friends and
relatives stood around weeping during the dressing and preparation. The
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corpse was laid out. Where possible, the death should take place in a
room where the ancestral tablets of the deceased's father were; in some
areas, if this could not be arranged, the corpse would be carried there
later, but not elsewhere. The ritual rules governing these acts were
everywhere very detailed, but differed from place to place.
    The corpse was then laid out on.a mat on the floor in a room pre-
pared in accordance with the customs of that area, facing the door,
which was left open : the immediately bereaved relatives were obliged
to keep watch night and day beside the deceased, and to welcome well-
wishers as they came to pay their respects.
      In the morning of the day chosen as propitious for the encoffining —
usually the third of fourth after the death — the bereaved family would
put on mourning which had been made for them by the village women.
In every village mourning was worn in four or five different grades,
depending on the closeness of relationship with the deceased, although
the mourning considered proper to each grade differed in detail from
area to area. The coffin was then carried through the village by the young
men of the village and placed, covered with a blanket or cloth, in a
matshed on suitable open land outside, with a table with offerings in
front. The bereaved family would continue to keep watch beside the
coffin, snatching sleep when and how they could. The villagers would
come again to pay respects : anyone who did so would be invited to eat
of the funeral food provided by the bereaved family but cooked on
communal stoves nearby by the elders of the village. If the death took
place outside the village the coffin could not be brought back into the
village : in such cases the matshed would be built far out in the fields.

     During the evening and night of this or the next day elaborate and
lengthy rituals would be mounted by Taoist priests, with all those in
mourning attending : these rituals were designed to secure the safe
passage of the deceased through the hells of punishment, and his
protection from the attacks of ill disposed ghosts. During these same
evenings rituals to purify the family and the funeral site and to control
any nearby malicious spirits in preparation for the actual burial were
conducted. When the Taoist rites were completed, usually at about
two in the morning, the bereaved family would prepare to sleep on the
ground around the coffin.
     The following morning the bereaved family would wait by the
coffin to welcome well-wishers as they appeared again to pay their
respects, and when everyone was present a complex series of rituals took
194                          NOTES AND QUERIES


place in all of which the bereaved family played the central role with the
other villagers looking on. Details differed from district to district, but
usually some or all of the following were included: the buying of water
for the forthcoming rituals, the opening of the coffin and the washing
of the face of the deceased by all in mourning (in Sheung Shui these rites
took place immediately after death), the preparation by all the sons and
daughters of the deceased of food to be placed in the grave, a procession
around the coffin by all mourners, carrying incense, the division of threads
by the mourners, either over the coffin or elsewhere, and the offering
of wine by all mourners. Eulogies to the deceased might be read by the
village elders, and last of all the singing of prayers by a Taoist priest,
with all mourners kneeling, preceeding the screwing down and sealing
of the coffin was practically universal. During these rites mourning
would, in most places, be carried by the nearest relatives present
for persons within the mourning grades but unable to be present.
At many points the women of the deceased's immediate family would
sing wailing songs. In many places in the New Territories the natural
family of the deceased's wife would play a prominent role in these rites
alongside his own famfly.
     When the coffin was prepared the young men of the village would
lash it on poles and carry it off, preceded by the bereaved family. Since
the funeral was of ritual significance to the village as a whole the
standing rice in the fields would, if necessary, be trampled down to let
the coffin pass. The grave would have been already dug, again by the
young men of the village. At the grave other rites would take place;
these differed from area to area; in some, Taoist rites took place at the
grave, in others, the main rite was the sharing of food among the mourners
across the open grave. Usually the first handfuls of soil were thrown in
by the sons and daughters of the deceased, but everywhere the filling in
of the grave and the proper ordering of the food offerings and ritual
decoration of the grave was the responsibility of the young men of the
village.
     Upon the return to the village Taoist rites would usually, in most
areas, take place around the new, temporary, spirit tablet of the deceased,
often at the spot where the corpse had been laid out. The room and its
environs would be purified and decorated. From now on until, usually,
the twenty-first day after the death, that is, during the mourning period,
the immediate family would observe some relatively minimal ritual
restrictions, and would place offerings to the deceased daily in front of
the tablet. In some areas Taoist rites to assist the deceased to reach the
                              NOTES AND QUERIES                         195
Taoist heaven would be held on the seventh night after the death; but
it is probable that these rites were more frequently combined with the
rites of funeral night and conducted then. In most areas the most
important rituals during the mourning period were the preparation for
the return of the spirit of the deceased to visit his family, and, a little
after this, the visit of the family to .a spirit medium to consult the
deceased to check that he was contented and comfortable.
     On the twenty-first day early in the morning members of the
immediately bereaved family would go to the grave, place new offer-
ings there, and pay the family's last respects. (In Sheung Shui this rite
was done on the third day after death). The family would then put on full
mourning, which would not have been worn since the day of the burial,
or the day the seventh day rituals were held. They would attend Taoist
rituals in front of the temporary spirit tablet, thereafter take the tablet
to a suitable spot, in some cases near a river, where it would be burnt.
In some cases this was done within a ritual enclosure purified by the
sons of the deceased, together with all the objects used in the various
rituals, and with gifts of paper money and objects to the deceased and
to other deceased family members. The family would, in many cases, then
remove mournings, in some cases at a spot outside the village. The
mourning would then be burnt. All mourners would put on new clothes
which had been passed through the smoke of the fires. Led by the Taoist
priest the family would return to the place where the temporary spirit
tablet had been placed, now stripped and swept, and would assist the
priest in the placingand worshipping of a new paper tablet to the deceased,
after which new lucky papers would be pushed up, the ex-mourners
would put on pieces of red tape or cloth to signify their final removal
of mournings, and go to welcome their friends and relations in another
meal prepared by the elders of the village.

      This extremely condensed statement represents the basic ritual of a
 Punti village funeral. In Hakka villages customs differed substantially.
 Thus, for instance, the burial usually took place in such villages at dawn,
 and many of the family rituals, such as buying water, were correspond-
 ingly brought forward to the previous day, to before the main Taoist
.celebration. Again, Hakka custom demanded in many areas a daily visit
 to the grave throughtout the mourning period whereas Punti custom
 demanded only a daily visit to the spirit tablet. In many other places
 similar divergences are to be noted. This note, therefore, represents
 only a very bare skeletal framework of rituals common to most Punti
 villages; it ignores the numerous intricate, but fixed and essential, minor
196                           NOTES AND QUERIES


ritual requirements, apd must be recognized as implying nothing beyond
indicating the main bfcsic elements of this important social ritual in Punti
villages in the New Territories.
                                                              Patrick Hase




        NOTES ON RICE FARMING IN SHATIN


Date: 16th April 1982
Informants : Mr. Wai Hon-leung J.P., VR Tai Wai, Shatin
             Mr. Tai Foo, Wong Chuk Yeung, Shatin
Food requirements
     Both informants stated that 1 adult required 8 taels of rice a day
(4 taels at each of 2 meals) or 3-4 catties of sweet potatoes, plus vege-
tables and fish. Thus Japanese rice ration of 6.4 taels, without other
foods available, was seriously inadequate, but it would have been ade-
quate if 1 catty of sweet potatoes with some other vegetables and fish
had been regularly available per day.

Yield
Yields were as follows:
Best land in Tai Wai, 4 piculs per tau per harvest, Wong Chuk Yeung, 2
piculs per tau per harvest.
Good average land in Tai Wai, 2.5 piculs per tau per harvest, Wong Chuk
Yeung 1.5 piculs per tau per harvest.
Worst land in Tai Wai, 0.7-1.0 picul per tau per harvest, Wong Chuk
Yeung, 1 picul per tau per harvest.
If the rains came late or there was a typhoon at harvest, the first crop
would be lost or reduced to 1/2 or 2/3 total yield, in such years the total
annual yield would drop by 1/4 -1/3. This happened "perhaps 1 year in
5, or 1 in 10" (Wai H.L.). Failure of second crop was rarer. Failure of
both crops in one yeaf was extremely rare and disastrous.

Sweet potato yield
    Good land in Tai Wai would yield 10 piculs in the 3rd harvest :
the differences between good and bad land were less significant in this

								
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