Paper Offerings (1)

A few months ago, I was in Singapore around the time of the Hungry Ghost Festival. This is when paper offerings are burned for the dead to use, the nearest approximation being a Chinese version of the Egyptian afterlife. As a child, I remember helping my grandmother fold ancestral offerings. Hers were the traditional kind – gold ingots and cash that never go out of style. This time, however, it was intriguing to see how necessities have changed in the realm of the dead, as seen by the MacBook and game console above…

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I was quite surprised to see life-sized roast chickens available for the dead in three flavours (looks like roasted, Beggar’s Chicken in parchment, and boiled), as well as what looks like a table top cooking set complete with gas canister.

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A more traditional take with your choice of a ship, or a brick mansion.

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Cars. I think one of them is a Mercedes, although the trusty minivan still dominates.

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Bling. And sandals. I think this is supposed to conjure up a resort ambiance.

What do you think would be necessities in the afterlife?

11 responses to “Paper Offerings (1)”

  1. I come from Slavic background. I was born and grew up in the Ukraine. Living in the US, I find that I miss those traditions and items that defined my childhood. I guess you must feel the same. To answer your question, here is a funny thing: When I die, I don’t think I’ll care about taking offerings, but I certainly understand the desire to give something when a loved one passes away. We try so hard to make sure that they are okay, no matter where they are going, no matter where you grew up, that feeling of grief and our need to make letting go easier is very universal. I GET the paper offerings, no matter how absurd it may seem to burn a paper playstation.

  2. Thanks for the comments! You make a great point about the paper offerings being more for the living than the dead. After all, loss is just that — an emptiness when a person vanishes. In pre-photography days it was probably even worse when memories faded until you could no longer recall a loved one’s face.

    At the other extreme, I suspect that it was also possible to feel increasingly obliged to burn more and more offerings, otherwise you’d feel guilty that you weren’t “providing” enough. Societies where the needs of the dead overtook those of the living must have had all sorts of interesting nuances.

  3. I had a Singaporean boyfriend about 18 years ago and I remember seeing some of these paper offerings – the one I remember best was an entire motorbike made of paper. It wasn’t even a miniature one, it was almost full size!
    I cannot reallly relate to sending things to the dead as I am from an atheist family in a Christian society, where the whole deal with dying is that you finally escape material needs. But your comment on societies (like ancient Egypt) where the needs of the dead pretty much took over the lives of the living is fascinating.

  4. Sicilian housewife — I adore your blog and think it’s hilarious. Would you ever be interested in doing a guest post here? All you have to do is review your favourite book and suggest a snack to go with it!

  5. Yangsze, Chinese are very imaginative. I see such “offering” to the dead as communal psychotherapy and psychodrama. There are “ghosts” among us, or even within us. However, I only offer small fragrant joss ticks and prayers to my departed loved ones, for I prefer to eat and drink than burn my money away.

  6. Well, it’s almost time for the ghost month again. This reminds me of a real story that my mum told me. Two brothers would attend the yearly cemetary visit to their late mum. For 2 consecutive years, one brother would strike big wins (lottery buys) while the other brother was down on his luck no matter how hard he works. He then complained about it to his brother, as he never failed to pray and be there in person. One night, he dreamed of his late mother who finally explained to him. “You always relied on your brother to contribute the money, not once you opened your wallet to give. How do you expect me to reward you!!

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