[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

[Honouring Ancestors]
My wife and I took a short trip back to my ancestral town at Anbu (庵埠) near Shantou to take part in ancestral temple ceremonies. This was my seventh visit to the place where my parents married in 1937. When I visited the first time in 1983 with my parents to visit my maternal grandparents who were in their 90'sat that time, the people living there were desperately poor. I stayed in the village for a week, doing my toilet outdoors and learning how to draw water from the well.

Drawing water from my mum's old house

Over the years, the transformation in the area has been truly dramatic. Taking the Silkair flight to beautiful Xiamen, we travelled along a first-class highway to Shantou. Anbu has become a suburb of Shantou even though it is administratively under Chaozhou City. My older relatives have all passed away. Now I am addressed by nephews and nieces as 'pek pek' (伯伯). Some of my cousins have done well. One lives in a luxurious house in a gated community with waterways all furnished in western style.

Nephews and nieces

On the first day, I was given the honour to lead the ceremony paying respect to a branch of the Yeo ancestors going back to the Song Dynasty. It was an elaborate affair with all kinds of offerings including a beautifully disembowelled pig and a similarly prepared goat, innards carefully placed below. We were dressed in long robes and had to stand, kneel, bow, process and pour libations of wine countless times. The joss smoke was suffocating. Every ancestor's name in the temple was read out including my parents. After that, the place was cleared for a feast, toasted with endless goblets of white spirit. Five years ago, I took part in a similar ceremony when the temple was re-opened for the first time after 1949.

Suiting up

Much kneeling

My wife and I before Yeo ancestors

On the second day, two of my brothers and I took part in another ceremony to bring our parents' names into the main Yeo ancestral temple (进祠). My paternal grandparents names were entered in the rolls many years ago before Liberation. It is considered a great honour to be inscribed. All proceedings were in formal Teochew to a few of which I gave short replies in my rusty colloquial Teochew.

Parents' names

With my brothers and others

With my second brother Jim

Clansmen bowing

With my second brother Jim and fourth brother Harry

Some Christian friends asked how I was able to take part in these events as a Roman Catholic. In fact, these are Confucianist rituals which are not considered religious. A long time ago, different orders of Catholic missionaries in China debated this point all the way to the Vatican with the Jesuits arguing that honouring ancestors was not against church teaching. It was called 'the rites controversy'. Anyway, during the three-hour ceremony, I had plenty of time to pray for my own parents and grandparents.

Chatting with most senior Yeo

My wife and I before my parents' bridal chamber

With kids at the kindergarten my father built in honour of my mother

Sons honouring parents

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Minister for sharing your life!

Thursday, January 15, 2009 7:16:00 am


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