No effigies of the King of Hades
Although the government of Penang allows the Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations to be held with standard operating procedures, it is too late for the effigy makers to build impressive Tai Su Yeah (King of Hades) paper effigies.
“We don’t have enough time to prepare them,” said craftsman Loh Soo Ban, 66.
In previous years, Loh was able to obtain 34 commissions of Tai Su Yeah effigies from the “Phor Thor” committees.
“Our Tai Su Yeah effigy measures between 2.74 m and 4.88 m.
“Since last year, I haven’t received any orders as many celebrations are either canceled or reduced,” he said at his store in Carnarvon Street, George Town.
Loh added that it would take them about three months to build the effigies.
“Each year my workers and I were busy from the fourth lunar month to the end of the seventh lunar month preparing for the celebration.
“We would build the effigies in several parts before installing them in the middle of the sixth month of the lunar calendar.
“Since there won’t be any celebrations this year, we don’t have any effigy orders, which means zero business for me,” he said.
Loh said he suffered around RM 100,000 in casualties due to the bad times.
“My monthly expenses are around RM18,000 because I have to pay rent, utilities and my workers.
“Since the start of this year, the cost of materials has increased by around 40% due to freight and delivery charges.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I could sell over 30 paper houses for funerals in a month.
“However, due to the order of movement control, funerals are being held on a small scale and some families have decided not to burn paper paraphernalia for the dead,” he said.
Effigy maker Ng Chi Wang, 64, from Berapit on mainland Penang, who is known to have made the city’s largest Tai Su Yeah effigy, said he also had no orders. This year.
“This is the second year in a row that I have had no business during the Hungry Ghost Festival.
“Before the Covid-19 outbreak last year, I used to receive over 20 orders to make effigies of different sizes each year.
“The largest effigy I made measured 8.23 m.
“While the number of Covid-19 cases in Penang is increasing, many associations have decided to cancel the celebrations,” he said.
The month-long Hungry Ghost Festival, which began on August 8, will culminate tomorrow on the 15th day of this lunar month.
According to Chinese belief, ghosts exist in a realm where they suffer from a great thirst and hunger that can never be sated – a consequence of bad karma.
The best way to relieve their suffering is to make offerings on their behalf. The merits accumulated through such acts can be dedicated to the spirits in the hope that they can have a better rebirth.
Called Yu Lan in Mandarin or Phor Thor in Hokkien, the festival takes place every year during the seventh month of the lunar calendar.
Across Penang, stages are usually set in predominantly Chinese areas, and evening shows are staged to entertain both humans and “non-humans.”
But more than 400 places around Penang that usually hold such celebrations will not hold such performances this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.