Ancestors and orphan ghosts: Henhua Salvation Rituals of the festival of universal deliverance of the seventh lunar month in Malaysia
ABSTRACT: Based on field observations and textual analysis of the Salvation Ritual of the Henghua community (those from Xinghua) in Seremban, Malaysia, this article studies mechanisms of cultural transfer and localization strategies in overseas Chinese communities. In Xinghua, ancestors and orphan ghosts are worshiped according to different ritual traditions. Worshiping ancestors is usually done during the Zhongyuan Festival (in the seventh lunar month), and worshiping orphan ghosts is usually reserved for the Xiayuan Festival (in the tenth lunar month). However, the Salvation Ritual of the Henghua community in Seremban is different: it worships not only ancestors, but also orphan ghosts. Worshiping ancestors is a continuation of the Zhongyuan ritual tradition in Xinghua, and worshiping orphan ghosts is influenced by the tradition of the Hokkien communities in Seremban. As a “mixed” religious ritual, the Salvation Ritual has been adapted to the special historical environment in overseas Chinese communities, and has strengthened the social-cultural networks among fellow members of the same village and lineage.
Zheng Li is an assistant professor in History Department of Xiamen University. Her research field is Chinese social cultural history, with a special focus on the temple systems, rituals, and operas of overseas Chinese and in southeast China.