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Friday, November 19, 2010

My Grandfather's Funeral

One day back just back from school, we were dragged down to Chinatown. It turned out my paternal grandfather had passed away!
The first thing we saw when we reached my grandfather’s place was a street barber outside the premises. All of us males in the household had to have our hair cut there and then because apparently we were not supposed to cut our hairs for the next 100 days!

Ladies mourner in traditional sack cloth.
Photo from the National Archive
Next was the terrifying sight of my deceased grandfather lying in the shopfront on a canopy bed feet pointing towards the main door. He was dressed in traditional Chinese attire (the skull cap and Chinese robe). Then the ladies in the houses had to perform a “feeding the dead” by placing some rice using a chop stick in his mouth. To us young kids, it was most scary!

The funeral lasted 7 days or so and much of what goes on is still practiced nowadays although some practices has been modified like nowadays very few wear sack clothes but back then, everybody had to put on itchy sack cloth over the very rough vanilla mourning clothes. The ladies had a head piece covering the hair while the guys had a comical sort of hat. 

Unlike the coffin of today, the coffin of the past was a gigantic monstrous size thing. Passing by it gives all of us the jeepers but it was worse for the ladies as all of them had to sit beside the coffin and burn paper money. They were not allowed to leave except to go to the toilet or to sleep. No such things as wandering around attending to the many guests. Talking about guests, whenever one person turns up to pay his respect, the males had to kneel by the side and bow whilst the ladies had to let out the loudest wail possible. And loud it was as my grandfather had 6 daughters and 3 daughters in law and they certainly know how to make a good wail. No need to engage professional wailers. Yes apparently in those days, rich people could engage professional wailers to ‘cry’ as they believe the louder the wail, the better the standing of the deceased.

The towing of the hearse.
Photo from the National Archives
Funeral those days was more grand. On the day of the funeral, there was a huge procession. The hearse would be towed by many people for up to 2 km and then there will be a group photo before everybody gets into the transport to the cemetery.
A group photo at a funeral procession.
Photo from the National Archives

Lowering of the Coffin.
Photo from 
At the cemetery, the coffin was carefully lowered by many many people. The weight of the coffin coupled with the uneven ground around the plot makes it a very dangerous undertaking. I remembered I helped out once during the lowering of the coffin at a classmate’s grandfather’s funeral and unable to take the weight of the coffin, I let go and the guys behind cursed and swear at me no end.

Anyway, after the coffin was lowered, each one of us had to take a small lump of soil and throw it down on the coffin before the undertaker covers up the hole. And then the guys had to strip! Yah right in the broad day light, we had to change into coloured shirt from the mourning shirt and the guys just stood there and strip to their brief. I was so uncomfortable doing that but no choice, the covered tent was for the ladies and I couldn’t jolly well go there.

Unfortunately, that’s all that I can remember of the funeral. I think I was around 10 years old then. I do wish there were real photos but there isn’t. Those featured here are the closest to the real happening at my grandfather’s funeral.

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