The breath of death – Chinese funeral in Singapore

I live in an area with many apartment blocks. Sometimes I see people with idiosyncratic music passing by. Once I filmed that and then started looking for what it was all about.

THE Chinese religion doesn’t really exist. If people have faith, it’s often a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The mourning colour is white but the colour red/gold also plays an important role. It should bring happiness. Chinese believe in a life after death and also in a return. It’s not uncommon for a lot of money to be spent in the event of death. Then several days of lasting and colorful celebrations are organized. Not only in Singapore there are business and associations that take care of these tasks.

Until 1961 there were houses in Chinatown in Sago Lane 硕莪街 for the dying relatives. This had less to do with the cramped conditions of the more generational families than with the fact that people were afraid of ghosts. Now the deceased should not haunt the house as a ghost. Unfortunately, I don’t know how they explained this in the dying houses. So Sago Lane was the “death street” and all businesses that earned money from it were of course represented here. There were flower shops, paper merchants, funeral paraphernalia shops and coffin makers. But there were also lots of food stalls, because the mourners wanted to be fed. 

On of the last funeral in Sago Lane around 1960 in Singapore

But even today, many traditions are maintained at Chinese funerals. The deceased must be cleaned with water, which does not come from the own household. For this purpose, two coins are thrown into the water to prove that it was bought. Of course, the dead person is dressed so that he does not freeze on the journey to the afterlife. He is forced to wear an uneven number of clothes. That should bring luck. Generally an odd number brings luck – the Europeans know this when giving flowers away…

There are many other traditions that vary according to the region and faith. Candles are often lit that must not go out, otherwise the spirit of the dead will not find its way. It is widespread, which again lasts an uneven number of days (max. 7 days), that no pregnant or/and black cat (or rat) is allowed to jump over the deceased. Should this happen, the deceased would become a zombie.

Of course, somebody keeps a wake all the time and friends and relatives come by to keep company. Often loud traditional Chinese folk music plays. It’s supposed to ward off evil spirits. However, this tradition can only be found today in the country in China itself. In a city like Singapore this is’nt possible.

Food sacrifices are made because the deceased could pass by again until the 7th day. In this time also many offerings are burned. These are made of paper and/or bamboo and often amazing works of art. They represent things which were important to the deceased in this world and which he should not do without in the hereafter. These can be replicas of houses, cars and boats, but also people and animals are replicated and burned. Meanwhile there is a lot to buy in Chinatown. In addition to paper money, jewellery, bicycles and pets, there are also care articles such as creams and dentures to buy. Everything made of paper.

When the wake is over, the coffin is taken to the cemetery accompanied by the bereaved. Here often “chin. Figures” or stilt walkers. The coffin rests either on a colorfully decorated truck or in a “modern” hearse. A band always precedes. After about one kilometre, the bereaved are picked up by the cars or buses that follow them at a distance.

Arriving at the cemetery, only the closest relatives remain at the funeral ceremony. In Singapore, cremations are usually made today.

The guests also receive gifts. Usually a classic red envelope (Hong Bao) with one dollar or just a few cents. These envelopes are also from chin. New Year celebration well-known. That should replace the expenses for the guest – of course only symbolically. Later you have to buy something sweet from this money to get rid of the breath of death (brings bad luck). What you also often see is a red ribbon that people wear around their heads or a red thread on their wrists. Actually, this should remain on the body until it dissolves by itself. 

A video of a very big funeral from todayhear the Music 😉

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