Tours help promote Chiu Chow hungry ghost festival in Hong Kong
On a hot summer evening, a crowd gathers around a paper horse as tall as a man to hear a hair-raising tale of the unlikely.
The horse, tour guide Anven Wu Yim-chung tells a group of about 20 people, carries an envoy to hell to invite ghosts to earth during the Yu Lan Hungry Ghost Festival, in its second day at Kowloon City's Carpenter Road Park yesterday.
It's one of 40 such festivals taking place around town, but beyond the migrants from the northeastern Guangdong city of Chaozhou who keep it alive, few people understand what it's all about.
The Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage is hoping to change all that by offering tours for the uninitiated to mark the inclusion of the Hungry Ghost Festival of the Chiu Chow (Chaozhou) community in Hong Kong in the national list of intangible cultural heritage.
The Kowloon City festival is one of the biggest in the city and is in its 48th year. The tour party learned about the traditions of the festival, which is based on the premise that ghosts are allowed back in the seventh month of the lunar year to enjoy a slap-up meal and receive a blessing by the Taoist and Buddhist gods.
Organisers first invite gods to the festival by bringing statues or religious objects. A blue-faced god of hell, responsible for controlling folk unseen by human eyes, is erected.
When the gods are ready, it is time for the ghosts. A paper envoy is sent to hell and on the first day of the month, ghosts can start making applications for permits to go to earth.
The ghosts' feast starts off with a ritual which expands their mouths. Gods then hear the chanting of religious scriptures, while humans are entertained by Chiu Chow opera.
When the three-day festival ends, the gods are thanked and the ghosts are returned to where they belong. Packs of rice blessed by the gods are given free to the public.
The tours are being funded through a HK$2 million donation from the Jockey Club, split between four Hong Kong festivals that made the list of intangible cultural heritage. Wu hopes they will help keep alive an activity that has been in decline in recent years.