The Spookiest Asian Customs and Traditions That Put Halloween To Shame
Hungry Ghost Festival
Falling on the 15th day of the seventh month, the Hungry Ghost Festival commemorates the annual opening of the underworld gates, giving spirits free rein to roam around the city and haunt its residents. In the week leading up to the festival, Hong Kong’s temples and ancestral halls become filled with people burning incense, and offering fruit and meals to their ancestors.
But how do you stop a less welcome spirit from popping in for a visit? Hongkongers practise a number of things during the Hungry Ghost Festival, including keeping windows and doors closed, not hanging washing outdoors (for fear of trapping a lost wandering spirit), and avoiding taking photos at night––to avoid catching a ghost in your phone.
The spookiest ghost-prevention method of all? Avoiding the last bus or train of the night. Rumour has it that Hong Kong-based spooks lie in wait for unsuspecting travellers, ready to give them a late-night haunting.
In Taiwan, this is referred to as Ghost Month. The taboos to avoid during this ghostly period of time are quite similar: The act of whistling is avoided, as this is believed to attract evil spirits and bring bad luck. Some even avoid buying a car during Ghost Month, when the likelihood of getting into a car accident is said to be higher. Just saying the word "ghost" is also believed to attract these wandering spirits (Taiwanese will generally use the term "good brothers" instead.)
It is also said that swimming or any other kinds of water sports shouldn't take place during Ghost Month, as all the evil spirits that drowned may in turn attempt to drown you. Another interesting belief: If you pick up money on the street, you may get a 'ghost marriage' or get somebody’s ill fortune.
Some superstitions and rules that people follow during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore include not stabbing your chopsticks into a bowl of rice (as hungry ghosts may think your food is an offering to them), not opening your umbrella inside the house at night as it may invite spirits to take shelter under them with you, and not leaving your front door open all night as it may invite negative energy into your premises.
Singaporeans also believe in not killing rare insects that visit your house, as moths, grasshoppers and butterflies may be a manifestation of your ancestors paying a visit during the seventh month. Aside from avoiding swimming at night where the ghosts of drowned souls may drag you underwater to meet the same fate, other taboos include avoid peeing on trees as it may offend spirits lurking in the area.
The Breast Ghost
Female ghosts feature strongly in Malaysian and Indonesian folklore. One in particular comes to mind, the 'hantu kopek', also known as 'hantu tetek', 'wewe gombel' or the 'breast ghost'. Though the details vary according to different locales and villages, the blood-curdling myth generally centres around a female ghost who is said to take young children, hide them under the folds of her breasts, and run away with them. In olden days, during Maghrib prayers, parents in villages would warn their children to come inside the house lest they be captured by the evil hantu kopek.
Some say this ghost also appears in the form of a beautiful young woman with unusually large breasts, who lures young men with the intention of kidnapping and suffocating them.
Ghostly guests at the door and funeral taboos
If you've ever wondered why people in the Philippines say “tao po” before entering a house, here's the story behind it: Filipinos say "tao po" to declare that they are indeed human. It is believed that ghosts, spirits or aswangs cannot say that they are human. The question is, will you now think twice before answering a voiceless knock at the door in the dead of night?
Filipinos also believe it is not wise to go directly home after attending a funeral. Instead, they have to stop over at another place and make 'pagpag' or 'dust off' any negative energy before going home. It is also to ensure that any spirits that may be following you will not go home with you too.
Another taboo known as 'Sukob' disallows sisters from marrying in the same year, as the luck will be divided into two. It also warns against marriages in the same year as the death of a family member, as this is considered unlucky.