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Exhuming a Grave

In land scarce country like Singapore, more than 80,000 graves were exhumed over the last 30 years. In the past, more than 100 graves a day to make way for land development e.g. building highways, Mass Rapid Transit or new housing. Nowadays, there are fewer graves to exhume.

Rites and Rituals:

1. Depending on the hour, usually in the early morning, a priest e.g. Taoist priest conducts a simple ritual of prayers and offerings. The exhumation date is pikced according to the Chinese horoscopes of the deceased and family.

2. When digging starts, the family membrs who were present, MUST turn away when the first grain of dirt is unearthed. Chinese custom considers it unlucky to look when an ancestor's grave is dug up.

3. When the diggers reach close to the depth of the coffin, they set up a plastic cover over the grave because the Chinese believe that the dead cannot look at the sky.

4. Bones MUST be picked up in the RIGTH order. The first few bones unearthed are placed in a basin and washed in rice wine. There were situations where the corpse were in `excellent condition'. In such a situation, arrangement must be made to cremate the body together with the coffin.

5. Next, a relative will carry the bones in a white bag, with an identification tag under a Chinese wooden canvas umbrella to "guide the soul of the dead" out of the grave to it's new "home". The bag is handed to the diggers, who will then meet the family later in the day to cremate the remains.

6. Any valuables found e.g. rings or other `treasures' are returned to the relative.

WARNING, do not accept any `valuables' e.g. black buttons or items of clothing in the grave. These are very unlucky.

This is a true story: There was one situation where I recall, the diggers were not happy with the `red packet' or `ang pao' extra money given on the spot to the diggers and they asked the family member to give a black button to her child who was with her. Her child, a 4 year old boy cried non-stop after holding the black button for the whole day. Later, she had to approach to priest to `bless her child'. After that, the child immediately stopped crying.

7. After the bones were cremated, some families prefer to place all the ash into an urn and place it at a crematoria. While some family members may decide to bring back some ash and place them in an urn to pray at home.