February 12, 2012

Chap Goh Mei "Reunion" with loved ones

I did not want to write this article earlier in case it rubs my readers the wrong way.

Do some of your older relatives "call their dearly departed" home for the New Year and Chap Goh Mei reunion dinner? A few of my aunts and cousins do this while some of them are Christians some are not. Some have learnt this ritual from their own mothers in China as one of my cousins told me. She had witnessed how her own mother cried such such "reunions" in China.But not all Foochows practise this today.

Here is a description of my aunt's Chap Goh Mei Reunion dinner with her "dearly departed"

this is an ancient Chinese painting. the empty seats are for those friends
who have already gone from this life.

When the food was all ready my aunt invited her "guests" by opening her main door and calling them to come into the living room. After a short while when she had seen that her table was all ready she went to the photos (usually we Foochows hang photos of our dearly departed on the "main wall" by calling them individually asking them to take their seats at the table....

And then she sat  down at the table and started talking to them one after another in the family's hierarchical order. She reported whatever had been happening throughout the year. It was like a counselling session with the elders paying attention to her. ( Occasionally in the past when there were other living relatives within ear shot she might even speak louder for both sets of people to hear ..I know my aunt sometimes cries very loudly but most of the time she is serene and collected.)

Reminding them of what the younger generation has been doing my aunt was like submitting a report card for each of her children to the grandparents and dearly departed father!! Others might interpret this differently. It could be her way of doing reverse psychology.

Again more often than not her own married children would not be with her when she carried out this ritual as they would be doing their "living reunion" with their own children. I guess when a mother lives alone and she does not want to spend her new year with her children she must have a good plan to fall back on. And this aunt of mine chooses this ritual for herself for reasons best known to her.

Another way of "reuniting with the dearly departed" was how an elderly cousin of mine stood before the photo of her dearly departed husband and with tears in her eyes she recounted her own stories for example about the 13 months her husband was in the New Village "prison" in Kuching because her late husband was suspected of taking part in  Communist activities or was a Communist sympathiser.

She went on to remind him how she raised their children while he was away for 13 months and how she tilled the land and saved money to visit him in Kuching...and then she told him how she suffered when he was dying from liver cancer.

This monologue before the photo took about half an hour and I witnessed it only once when I was her other guest at her special chap goh mei dinner. In fact I found it quite hard to eat the dinner with her after her special reunion. There were only two of us as she is a vegetarian and I happened to be free to be with her.

I am sure deep in my aunt's heart she still misses her late husband especially. And as for my cousin there is no doubt even up to now she still loves her late husband very very much. She came all the way from China to marry him without even knowing him in 1950. She was a child bride of those long ago days. And she had really helped him through thick and thin and now with all the wealth that she had accumulated she is spending them on her children and grandchildren. Indeed to my knowledge she was the one who did all the farming and hardwork to buy land and property.

These are two rituals which several of my Foochow elders continue to take part...I wonder if there are other rituals left in this modern world?


Rollt said...

Interesting read! I didn't realise there's such tradition being a Foochow myself!

Anonymous said...

I love my culture/tradition and also my religion. Some of our culture vanished because of our religion that banned the practice. I do believe some of those things of Taoism, like most Taiwanese are doing, are stupid, like presenting a lot of food in front of a shrine at home. These should be stopped because it is not realistic any more.

I think the Pope once apologised for being harsh on the aboriginal people. As a results of banning by the religion, the culture and tradition of these people diminished. I afraid the same thing is happening on the Ibans/Dayakl people of Sarawak. Once the culture practice and tradition is lost (by not passing to next generation), they are gone forever.

14-Doo Boy

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks for writing in. Actually some of the mainland Chinese movies also feature these two rituals in their variations. So I think these rituals are still carried out in China and Taiwan ...however in different ways. I saw one documentary sometime ago when an old man sat infront of his wife's photo with two glasses of Yellow Wine and started to reminisce his years without her. It was very touching especially for people who know it can be very lonely during Chinese New Year.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear 14 Doo boy
I believe some rituals are lost forever...unless they have beenwritten down. I am glad that the Australian writers are beginning to document about their lost rituals and stories. The Ibans are still not waking up yet to their predicament at the moment. Only a handful of the indigenous people are doing some writing. Thanks for your comments.

Ann said...

I didn't know this, I was always given the impression that the Foochows came to Sibu because of persecution for their Christian beliefs.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Not all elders today are Christians and some keep their old rituals..many also have lost their religion!! In Miri I have met many relatives and ladies who are not Methodists/Christians even from their earlier days in Sarawak!!

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