How you can stay out of ‘trouble’ this hungry ghost month

Hungry Ghost Month Asia

Are you going to be in Asia during the one month that spirits and ghosts roam the Earth? Source: Shutterstock.

THE HUNGRY GHOST MONTH, also known as the hungry ghost festival month, is a big part of the Chinese culture as it is widely “celebrated” in a handful of Asian countries.

Stemmed from traditional Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, it is a nearly month-long event that culminates on the 15th night of the seventh month – the hungry ghost festival. It is believed that on that night, ghosts and spirits including those of the deceased ancestors are set free from the realms of heaven and hell.

Not to be confused with Qingming (similar to All Souls’ Day observed in the Western world) in which living descendants pay homages to their deceased ancestors, during the hungry ghost month, the deceased are believed to visit the world of the living.

Yes, whether they like it or not.

Buddhists and Taoists would perform rituals and stage street performances to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased and appease them.

Rituals include preparing a bountiful of food offerings; burning incense, joss paper, and paper mache form of material items; meals served with empty seats at the table; and more.

Hungry Ghost Month Asia

Food offerings and the burning incense at a roadside to appease the deceased during the hungry ghost month. Source: Shutterstock.

But the “enjoyment” is not limited to the spirits alone.

In Singapore and Malaysia, “live” concert-like events popularly known as getai or koh-tai are performed by groups of singers, dancers, entertainers or comedians, and opera troops that are set up within a residential district.

These concerts are not meant for humans but to keep wandering spirits entertained so they do not cause mischief. However, more often than not, the living crowd around the concert spaces to watch the performances as well.

Hong Kong Hungry Ghost Month Opera Performance

Chinese opera performance in Hong Kong to celebrate the hungry ghost festival. Source: Shutterstock.

Different variations of the festival are observed in different parts of Asia.

For example, in Japan, the 15th day of the seventh lunar month is when people give gifts to their superiors and acquaintances. Originally, it was for giving gifts to ancestral spirits.

In Vietnam, it is viewed as a time for the pardoning of condemned souls who are released from hell.

In Cambodia, a fifteen-day-long annual festival known as Pchum Ben occurs where Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives of up to seven generations.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the festival is known as Cioko or Sembahyang Rebutan, which sees people gathering around temples and bringing offerings to a spirit who died in an unlucky way. After that, the offerings are distributed to the poor.

Hungry Ghost Month Asia

Different variations of the festival are observed in different parts of Asia. Source: Shutterstock.

What does means for travelers?

There are certain acts of abstinence that locals follow by to avoid bad luck such as:

  • Whistling alone at night (because” someone” may sing along with you).
  • Hanging out late.
  • Talk to yourself (because “someone” might take that as an invitation to make friends).
  • Standing under a tree in the middle of the night.
  • Taking pictures after dark.
  • Turn your head when you hear someone calling or patting you from behind
  • Opening an umbrella indoors (ghosts are believed to “take shelter” under them).
  • Looking underneath an alter table when there is a prayer session,
  • Getting married.
  • Go swimming in the middle of the night (“something” may pull your legs).
  • Spitting on the street or at a tree.
  • Stepping on or kicking offerings/joss sticks along the roadside.

But it is not all about things that you should not do.

There are also things that you should be doing if you ever find yourself landing right smack in the thick of the hungry ghost month in Asia.

Hungry ghost month Kuching East Malaysia

Residents giving offerings during the hungry ghost month in Kuching, East Malaysia. Source: Shutterstock.

For example, if you are curious about the getai or koh-tai performances and you are planning to join in the fun, leave the front row empty.

They are not reserved for you – if you know what we mean. In fact, bad luck will befall the living who insists on sitting in the front row, such as mysteriously falling sick.

Do not go searching for something that is not there. But if you happen to chance upon a spirit or a ghost, stare at them right in the eye the look or walk away calmly. Do not scream or shout.

Also, this is one of the basics of personal hygiene but after a long night out, wash your feet when u come back at night.

This year, the hungry ghost month will culminate in the hungry ghost festival on Aug 25, 2018.