Coffin rituals and the releasing of exorcised spirits
Returning to central Malaysia to describe two ritual events, Chapter 9 serves to compare south and central Malaysia’s Seventh Month ritual events. The first ethnography recounts a night-time luck-promoting ‘coffin ritual’ in Kuala Lumpur where participants lie in a coffin, symbolically dying and entering the Underworld when the coffin lid is closed and re-entering the world of the living as the coffin lid is removed. The ritual is described from the perspective of both participant and observer. As the coffin ritual was appropriated from contemporary Thai Theravada Buddhism, the analysis further examines Thai transnational cultural flows. The second ethnography revisits Klang to recount the ritual release of exorcised spirits which have been trapped in Guinness bottles and stored in the prison cell in the temple’s Underworld recreation. The chapter concludes by discussing Di Ya Pek’s perceptions of the relative passage of time in the Underworld, and an alternative interpretation of the Chinese Underworld’s creation.
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.
This study investigates contemporary Chinese Underworld traditions in Singapore and Malaysia, where the veneration of Hell deities is particularly popular. Highlighting the Taoist and Buddhist cosmologies on which present-day beliefs and practices are based, the book provides unique insights into the lived tradition, taking alterity seriously and interpreting practitioners’ beliefs without bias. First-person dialogues between the author and channelled Underworld deities challenge wider discourses concerning the interrelationships between sociocultural and spiritual worlds, promoting the de-stigmatisation of spirit possession and non-physical phenomena in the academic study of mystical and religious traditions.
Chapter 4 begins by contextualising Underworld deity worship within the broader context of vernacular religion in the Chinese diaspora, and then presents a compendium of Tua Ya Pek and Di Ya Pek’s contrasting mythologies. The ethnographic narrative begins with an ‘oil wok’ ritual to prepare medicines for the elderly in Jurong, Singapore, and introduces the Underworld tradition’s material and ritual cultures, emic perceptions of Hell, and presents a detailed description of a tang-ki entering a state of trance possession. The analysis focuses on alcohol consumption and gambling as self-perpetuating mechanisms and, contrasting ethical codes, draws comparisons with Taiwan’s ghost temples which became popularised during a similar time period.
This chapter explodes the myth that while Jews were active in culture and the arts, they were uninterested in sporting pursuits. A comprehensive review is provided of Jewish activity in a range of sports. For football there was important activity in the ownership of Leeds United and in rugby league in the sport’s administration. Leeds Jews achieved proficiency at county or even national level in golf, athletics, tennis and boxing. In amateur dramatics there was a distinguished history through the Proscenium Players (which launched many acting careers) and Limelight.
This chapter explains how the concept of identity is a complex one and not a unitary condition. Where Jews were forcibly contained within designated areas of the Pale, they conceived themselves as a unitary entity. Though they were also concentrated in the Leylands, they now lived among their new host society and so the single identity fragmented as people had to decide how Jewish to be if they wished to pursue integration. The example of the Jewish Lads Brigade is cited as a means of preserving Jewish identity while inculcating British values. The Scouts had a similar role for those who wanted a more rapid integration.
The final chapter falls into two parts, a survey of developments in the second half of the twentieth century and some final thoughts analysing the key themes of the book as a whole. Social mobility, economic success and residential concentration are notable characteristics of the modern community. Divisions persisted and one of the aims of the Jewish Representative Council was to speak for the diverse range of opinion, from the liberal Sinai Synagogue to the ultra-orthodox Lubavitch supporters. Much is made of the achievement of integration without assimilation and the penetration of the professions is highlighted. The case of Arnold Ziff is cited as a prime example of a major contribution to the economic and social life of Leeds, including benefactions to a range of causes, while retaining a committed Jewish identity.
The chapter attempts the difficult task of estimating the changing Jewish population of Leeds, without reliable census data. Before the present century, the census did not record religious affiliation. Surrogate demographic data has to be used based on place of birth; for the 1881, 1891 and 1901 census, if the place of birth was stated as Russia it has been used to form the basis of population estimates. The name COHEN is used as an additional indicator, as well as birth and death rates. The Jewish Year Book estimates are listed.
This chapter examines the Jewish community in Edwardian Leeds, by which time it was not just an immigrant community. The Aliens Act limited further mass migration and so the community grew naturally. It is shown how local institutions developed, such as synagogues and friendly societies. The chapter takes issue with the widespread belief, which underlay the 1917 anti-Semitic riots, that Jews were not contributing to the war effort. Numbers are provided of those Jews who served and died in the First World War. The importance of war memorials is stressed.