Keepers’ Qing Ming


By Catherine Lim and Ang Yik Han

Date line  Sunday 22 April 201

A week after the traditional fortnight period  of observances for family Qing Ming,  a group of tomb keepers  observed a collective  Qing Ming for the tombs under their care. The group of  5 take care of some 200 graves in blocks 5 and 2 at Bukit Brown.  A core group of 3 has been observing this practice for some 20 years.  They were joined this year by a mother and daughter team. The tomb keepers Qing Ming practices follow closely those observed by families with one exception.  It has  has three objectives: first, to honour the dead;  second, to thank  the “Gods” for their livelihood and pray for their continued support; third – the exception – to  ask for forgiveness for any unintentional offence caused in going about their duties in the past year and pray  for continued protection,

The tomb keepers of blocks 5 and 2 have commandeered a staked tomb which  will have  to make way for the highway. The family don’t mind. It is a cool corner to rest up, a strategic meeting point for their clients who are  descendents of those buried and this was where operation Tomb Keepers Qing Ming gathered.

As they went about their preparations, there was no set order of who does what or who should pray first. But there was a great sense of duty and mission from people  who knew just what to do intuitively, honed  by years of practice and mutual respect.

Tomb headquarters for Keepers of Blocks 5 & 2 with some observers (photo Catherine Lim)

Ah Chua  at 80 years old, is the eldest tomb keeper and stops to pose for the camera. The younger tomb keeper (in blue) is responsible for getting supplies and general organisation. The lady tomb keeper in pink is part  of a daughter and mother  team who for this Qing Ming joined this group. They help  in cleaning and sweeping because of the additional work load at the blocks which are heavily staked. Mother and daughter have their own  “turf” at another block which was first looked after  by  husband and father who has passed away.

Goody bags of offerings (photo Catherine Lim)

Getting the cooked food ready to be laid out (photo Catherine Lim)

Preparing the make shift alter for the Earth Diety or Tu Di Gong by the side of the grave (photo Catherine Lim)

3 portions of roast pork , "siew yoke," 3 kinds of vegetables, wine, fruits and sweets (photo Ang Yik Han)

( 3 major joss sticks (photo Catherine Lim)

The tomb keepers pray to 3 deities for Qing Ming:

1)The Earth Deity Tu Di Gong (土地公) 2) Another earth deity Tua Pek Kong (大伯公) for wealth and fortune 3) Mountain Deity( (山神) so tomb keepers won’t get lost in the hills and undergrowth . 山神 is important especially to the tombkeepers

(photo Ang Yik Han)

3 deities are honoured here (photo Catherine Lim)

Chua, taking the lead with mother and daughter team behind (photo Ang Yik Han)

Each tomb keeper lights up 11 joss sticks – 5 to represent the 5 directions which the earth deity encompasses, 3 for the wealth deity and 3 for the mountain deity

(photo Catherine Lim)

Daughter and mother (in background) (photo Catherine Lim)

He was the last but the most fervent as he prayed out loud for protection (photo Ang Yik Han)

The second make shift altar is set up across from the earth deity's for the ancestors whose graves are tended by the tomb keepers (photo Catherine Lim )

(photo Catherine Lim)

3 different meats, 5 portions of rice (to represent 5 directions) (photo Catherine Lim)

Making sure the spirits are able to drink by piercing the packet drink (photo Catherine Lim)

Yes, there are spirits for the spirits. Symbolically one tab will be opened (photo Catherine Lim)

(photo Catherine Lim)

The two elders beseech the ancestors to partake of their offerings and to look after them as well (photo Catherine Lim)

Preparations for the burning of the paper offerings

They stack the paper offerings in a circle (photo Catherine Lim)

"Gotong Royong" at its best, the tomb whisperer Raymond Goh looks on (photo Ang Yik Han)

Stars of fortune, prosperity and longevity imprint. This type of paper is also known "Heavenly Emperor " - 天公金 paper and is the only destined for heaven (photo Catherine Lim)

Gold for the underworld, folded just so to facilitate the burning and quick passage down to hell. (photo Catherine Lim)

You can never have too much currency in the underworld, silver and gold paper and ingots (photo Catherine Lim)

‎"Rebirth mantra paper" - 往生纸 - also known as "seven mantra paper" (七言咒纸), offered to the spirits to help their rebirth, each circle represents a mantra (photo Catherine Lim)

The largest is the Kuan Yin mantra at the bottom of the paper (photo Catherine Lim)

Currency good in the underworld to cap the stack for good measure (photo Catherine Lim)

At the earth deity’s alter, the stack is also being built.

(photo Ang Yik Han)


She soldiers solo on building her stack of paper offerings at the earth deity's altar (Photo Catherine Lim)

The stacking is done just so to facilitate the burning (photo Catherine Lim)

(photo Catherine Lim)

The paper offerings at Earth Deity alter is set alight first

(photo Catherine Lim)