Getting Married: Part 2 (Praying To Those Who Have Gone Before)
A few days ago (July 29th, a Wednesday) Wa Ie, Erik, and I went to Parangtritis (a beach area near Jogja) to pray to my maternal grandfather (Ngkong) and great-grandparents (Mak Co and Ngkong Co, with Co pronounced "tcho"). Part of Chinese tradition holds that when an ancestor has died, it is their descendants' duty to pray for them. Often during this prayer time, paper money is burnt and jajanan (snacks) as well as manisan (sweets) are prepared as offering. We celebrate our dead and honor them on Lunar New Year (Sin Chia, pronounced "shiin chia") and on the Qingming Festival (which, in the Hokkien language is referred to as Cengbeng, pronounced "cheng beng"). The third time we pray for the dead is during King Ho Peng, which is a day consecrated to the dead who have no descendants. Because they have no descendants, there is no one to pray for them, and we serve these souls by preparing food and honoring them as well.
((Tangent: Indonesia's culture in general is a lot more spiritual than the USA's and other western countries. Stories of kuntilanak (don't open that link if you're easily scared: it's a Wikipedia article about the creature) and other non-human beings abound here. So it's natural for us to believe that ghosts exist, as do genies, evil spirits, and the like. Now, one general belief that I and most of my relatives share is that sometimes the spirits of the dead don't always go to heaven when they pass away. Sometimes because they've done many cruel things during their lifetime, they must stay on earth. If they're lucky, their descendants (children, grandchildren) and relatives will pray for them. Think about it as if they're a criminal who must be tried before a judge. The criminal can't lobby for his case by himself; he needs a lawyer and people who can help find proof that he's innocent/should be forgiven. That's what descendants and relatives do: intervene for the spirit. Sometimes, people who were cruel during their lifetime really can't get to heaven. And they can't go to heaven and bargain with God or St. Peter because they can no longer pray.
Thus, the responsibility falls on the descendants + relatives to ask for God's mercy:
Lord, please forgive ________ and accept him/her at your side again.
The incredibly contentious topic of life-after-death and non-human existence really deserves its own post, so I'll leave it at that)).
Anyways! We can also choose to pray to the dead during auspicious moments or to ask permission/blessings from our parents, which is why we went to Parangtritis this Wednesday.
According to Chinese tradition, when someone dies, they go to the afterlife, and how pleasant their life is depends on their children and descendants. Wealthy people who pass away are sent entire truckloads of paper silver and gold, which are burnt and become riches in their afterlife.
Before everything else begins, we light incense. We believe that the aroma of the incense brings our prayers to heaven. Here Wa Ie is praying to God (Thian Kong in Chinese) for permission to meet her father and grandparents in order to send them money and food. Essentially, she's praying that God opens the gate of heaven to her prayers. When we light 1, 3, or 9 sticks of incense, those prayers go to God. When we light 2, those prayers are for the dead.
"Jangan foto-foto mulu sih ih, doa duluuuuuu."
Erik also prayed to his paternal grandfather and his maternal grandmother who have passed away, asking for permission to get married and mohon berkat untuk pernikahannya.
This is what everything looks like before we start burning the paper money. There are manisan on the three smaller plates and food that Ngkong likes on the blue plate. There are three of each food because we are sending this to Ngkong, Mak Co, and Ngkong Co.
Snacks for my family. I don't know what these are called in English so you'll have to be content with the pretty pictures.
The flies...are trying to eat the food :')
"Hahahaha aduh Wa Ie pas di foto ini keliatan kaya dukun ya. Ntar orang salah paham hahaha."
// "In this photo I really look like a witch doctor or something. People are going to get the wrong message.."
Doing this makes it easier for the money to burn. (I thought it had some special meaning but I guess...not...? :'D)
We burnt the paper gold as a sort of offering to God. If you want to go to Six Flags or Dufan, you need to pay for admission, right? This is a similar concept: so that our prayers are communicated to our ancestors, we must "pay" God for admission as well as ask for permission:
Dear Lord, my name is ___________ and I would like to pray to/for _________.
The silver, however, is for Ngkong and my great-grandparents.
WOW IT'S FIRE WE'RE BURNIN' THE MONEY SO IT'LL GO TO HEAVEN. Also if you look at the lettuce in the bowl, that serves as a sort of "appetizer". Without the lettuce + hot water in the bowl, it's said that our ancestors can't eat the food we prepared.
Once we're done praying, we throw the food into the ocean, where the waves will carry the food to Ngkong and Mak Co and Ngkong Co.
Wa Ie throws rose petals as a sign of honor and respect, and I...attempt to throw food.
My face is grumpy because I was crying, not because I was trying to pick a fight with Erik :')
Ngkong died when I was in fifth grade, around October. Two years prior he had come to visit New Jersey for two months with my grandma, Mak.
Each morning he would walk me to school (about ten-fifteen minutes away) and then give me a hug and a dollar or two before I left so that I could buy a snack or some stationery from the school store. He made me a coin bank out of a Gatorade bottle and would go out of his way to buy me snacks. Love, I suppose, needs no translations.
When I was a baby, my mother went to the United States to find a job so she could help support her growing family. During this time I stayed with Mak and Ngkong. From all the stories I hear, I was a really spoiled grandkid. He would piggyback me and buy me jajanan and we would walk around the neighborhood and spend a lot of time together.
Thinking back to all those times my grandfather visited and the simple ways he showed love to me (and others around him) made me realize that no matter how down I feel, I was and am still so loved. Wa Ie and Mak say that Erik is very similar to my grandfather, in that he is kind and generous, sometimes so much so that he forgets to take care of his own needs. "You need to take care of Erik," they said to me, "because he is a very, very good person." (It is much easier to learn to be smart than to learn to be kind, after all). So sometimes I wonder if perhaps Ngkong is still looking out for me and sent me a very wonderful person to help me, teach me such beautiful things, and fill my life with light.
I really, really miss Ngkong. I feel regretful sometimes that my mother and I were in America and weren't able to attend his funeral. Wa Ie likes to tell the story of how they had to open Mak's house for six days so that people could pay their respects, because he had helped and touched so many peoples' lives.
Perhaps that, more than being financially stable or well-known, is the true mark of success. Have you impacted others' lives in a positive way? When you stand before the Lord and He asks you, "What have you done with the opportunities and gifts I gave you?", will you be able to tell him how you have worked to help others, or will you pluck at excuses?
One of the things I love most about the culture I've come home to is that we still remember our family. We love, cherish, and honor their memories even after they have died.
Thank you, lovely honeybugs, for your well wishes and congratulations on my engagement. You mean the world to me and I am glad to call you my friends. I pray that your days bloom with light and wonder. May you find whatever it is that you are seeking in this lifetime.