During the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, the Taoists believed that ghosts and spirits would come out from the lower realm and pay homepage to their living descendants or relatives. Taoists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased, a form of filial piety where descendants extend to their ancestors even after their deaths. Therefore, it would not be difficult to spot a red and white tent from afar.
During this month, it was believed that these ghosts wandered into earth to seek food and entertainment because their descendants have forgotten to pay tribute to them after they had died or they were not given a proper ritual for a send-off. Therefore, family members or the congregation would offer prayers to their deceased relatives and burn paper incense, cars and other "merchandises" so that their loved ones can receive them in the netherworld. Steven, a long time organiser of 7th month events, explained that they would also conduct prayers and rituals for other wandering spirits so that these "homeless souls" would not bring misfortune to them by "disturbing their families and friends.”
Followers would also pray to the five "generals" who are known for their courage. These generals served as "protectors" for the followers so that the ghosts will be "detered" from intruding into the lives of the living people. Prayers will also be made to the "Black & White" guards, who, according to Taoist followers, are deities who are in charge of bringing wandering spirits to hell be brought in front of the King of Hell for judgment to determine whether they will be reincarnated or suffer in hell. It was believed that these guards will appear in places where there are homeless souls.
Among the numerous dialects of the Chinese language, Hokkien and Teochew are the two most common forms of dialects in Singapore. Therefore, it is not uncommon that a Hokkien Opera was staged at the Hungry Ghost Festival and Rituals. Hokkien folk operas is the the only form of traditional drama known to have originated from Taiwa. Using stylised combination of literary and colloquial registers of Taiwanese, it adopted elements of folk songs from Fujian and are based on folk tales of the Hokkien region.
We understood that there was no script in this Hokkien Opera as some of the actors are illiterate. Their team leader gave them an outline before the performance and distributed the characters. Unlike the popular getai shows, Hokkien Opera, according to Mr Lim, is a declining trade. Younger Singaporeans are not willing to learn this form of opera because they do not understand the dialect. The team of performers at this particular opera show had met only for a few times a year during the Hungry Ghost Festival to practise. It is amazing they have delivered a tremendous performance.
Over at the dinner banquet, there were rows of Taoist and Buddhist followers munching happily over a sumptuous 9-course dinner. The boisterous yells from the auctioneer captivated the audience and encouraged bids from the diners for various items that would "bless" the family with good luck and good health in the coming year.