This Content Is Only For Subscribers
By Ashley Sim
KUCHING, Sept 15: In a mesmerising display of cultural heritage and spiritual devotion, worshippers and participants of all backgrounds gathered on the streets near the Tua Pek Kong Temple here on Thursday night (Sept 14) for the ‘grappling with the ghosts’ event, also known as ‘Chio Ku’, in which the people snatch food with the ‘ghosts’.
‘Chio Ku’, an ancient ritual, was held to mark the last day of this year’s Hungry Ghost Festival. It is believed to symbolise how ‘hungry’ ghosts rush to grab the food, particularly the neglected ‘homeless’ souls from the nether world who were set free to roam the earth when the gates of Hell were opened on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, which fell on Aug 30 this year.
As dusk fell and shadows began to lengthen, people waited by the roadside where the offerings meant for wandering souls were placed on the ground, eyeing which pile to snatch. Families and friends were whispering to one another about who would get what and where they should stand to get it quickly.
Their tools of the trade? Large sacks and plastic bags that are prepared to be filled with offerings of fruits, vegetables, instant foods, snacks, etc.
Worshippers also believe that consuming the offerings for the wandering souls would bring blessings.
The interesting part is that in front of the temple, a structure that looks like a steel scaffolding was set up, and the more ‘privileged’ items, like hampers, were placed on top. In order to seize those items, people are to climb the structure as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, across from the Tua Pek Kong Temple was a long altar filled with offerings. These included a wide variety of cooked poultry and seafood, as well as fresh produce, baked goods, and other foods.
Earlier, a prayer ceremony was conducted at the altar before the start of ‘Chio Ku’. Among those who participated were Kuching South City Council (MBKS) mayor Dato Wee Hong Seng and Kapitan Tan Kun Gee.
“This festival demonstrates that people not only have a deep respect for their culture and religious beliefs, but also a commitment to uphold these cultural beliefs.
“But if you look at it from a different perspective, I’m sure you were wondering why people are putting so much food and so many offerings. This shows what a caring society we have because they’re worried that when they (the ghosts) come out, they still have nothing to eat.
“But I think behind the story of this festival is worth for us to think about, and that is that this society not only practices offering for belief, but it is also a form of appreciation, kindness, and caring,” Wee said when met by reporters.
At approximately 8.49pm, when the air horn sounds its shrill note, a spirited scramble ensues as devotees and participants dash to claim the offerings. To an outsider, this may appear as a scene of disorder, but in reality, it’s a profound manifestation of faith and tradition.
As fast as they could, the people raced towards the steel scaffolding. In what looked like a gravity-defying dance, they began to climb to the top, their hands swiftly grabbing hampers and goods while dodging fellow competitors.
People on the ground can also be observed swiftly grabbing the offerings, promptly placing them into their sizable sacks and plastic bags.
Spectators, including locals and foreign tourists who did not participate in the event, whipped out their smartphones to photograph and film the situation.
In addition to snatching food, people also burned joss paper, also known as ‘ancestor money’ or ‘ghost money’, as offerings to wish the deceased a good life in the afterworld.
For many, the ritualistic snatching of offerings is not just a festival but a bridge between the worlds of the living and the departed. It serves as a reminder of the cyclical nature of life and death, of blessings sought and received, and of traditions that continue to thrive in the heart of communities. — DayakDaily