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Pressing grave papers

It’s Qing Ming (Tomb Sweeping Day) again, which means it’s time to pay respects to my paternal and maternal grandparents again.

My paternal grandfather’s grave lies in Kopi Sua Cemetery; after an entertaining search, I “found” and cleaned it in December 2020. This year, I decided to revive an old Hokkien tradition and “press grave papers” (ya mu zhi) on his tomb.

The tradition involves spreading thin, square pieces of coloured paper all over the tumulus, usually with small stones on them so they do not fly away.

This practice fulfils a few purposes:

1. It symbolises repairing the roof of the deceased’s “house”.

2. It lets others know that the grave is taken care of by descendants.

3. It lets surrounding spirits and deities know that the deceased will not become a lonely, hungry ghost.

The underlying value here is filial piety - a value I admit I took time to understand and appreciate.

My father was surprised when I showed him the stack of colourful paper I had purchased from a paper offering shop. I guess he did not expect me to know about this tradition, let alone desire to continue it. But he readily agreed when I suggested practising it at his father’s grave.

And so we visited my grandfather’s grave - my dad, my brother, Tiak, and me.

We burned paper gold to him.

We also burned paper silver to the Hou Tu (“Emperor of the Earth”), the guardian deity resting next to his grave and overseeing its welfare.

It took me some time to “press the grave papers”, because the tumulus was huge.

A splash of colour!

My father reminded me to put a stack on his headstone too.

Rest well, Ah Gong!


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