Seventh Month rituals in southern Malaysia
Salvation rituals and Ah Pek parties
in Voices from the Underworld
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Moving south to Johor State during Ghost Month, Chapter 8 focuses on the comparative importance of City God temples in Malaysia and the active role played by Anxi Chenghuangmiao in promoting the contemporary tradition. The first ethnography follows an elaborate salvation ritual at Muar City God temple, with particular attention paid to the influence of Mahayana Buddhism and Thai vernacular religion. The latter manifests in the use of Thai luk thep dolls appropriated to accommodate the souls of malicious foetus ghosts enlisted into the temple’s Underworld spirit army. As the Malaysian malicious foetus ghost is a reinvention both of vulnerable foetus spirits in Singapore and of foetus ghosts appropriated into Taiwan’s vernacular tradition from Japan, transnational cultural flows and the socio-political catalysts affecting them are introduced. Returning to community creation, the second ethnography focuses on an event titled ‘Anxi City God’s cultural exchange’. Bringing together ten pairs of Tua Di Ya Pek, one pair channelled from each Underworld court, discussions with them reveal perceptions of post-mortal cosmology in conflict with that of their Singaporean counterparts. The analysis therefore compares societal catalysts triggered by Singapore and Malaysia’s competing post-1965 political agendas to account for the divergences between the two Underworld traditions’ cosmological interpretations.

Voices from the Underworld

Chinese Hell deity worship in contemporary Singapore and Malaysia

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