Posted by: Carolyn ODonnell | May 15, 2012

Penang’s rich and accessible pageantry

Marches, parades and even opera are not unusual on the streets of George Town, so I wasn’t surprised to hear some drumming and chanting during the afternoon. As I am staying in a large shophouse, all I had to do was trot to the back of the upper floor and peer out the window to see what was going on.

there was a brass section, drummers, a few people clustered on decorated trucks – I thought they were advertising something. Then the men with the poles appeared, the poles being attached to a casket wrapped in a gold cloth. It was a Chinese funeral.

I’d noticed the tent nearby with the signage of a local undertaker, which had been on the street for several days with Penangites offering fruit, playing cards and paying their respects in various ways. As many Chinese here worship their ancestors at the clan temples, the passing of a loved one is a very big deal and takes many days to process.

So now there was a little parade to mark this person’s passing. Women and men had gathered to follow the coffin and marched along the street behind the musicians. As I looked down I could see the tops of the mourners’ heads and was surprised to realise how many women had tried to dye their hair a rusty red colour. The black roots really stood out at that angle. From a hairdressing perspective, it was extremely illuminating.

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