Thousands of Chinese in singapore this month are crowding on to sampans to ride to a tiny off-shore island where they hope to lay up a year's store of good luck.
Kusu Island, OFF SINGAPORE
Pilgrims on boats; ashore on island; lighting joss sticks; at saint's shrine; on beach
Background: Thousands of Chinese in singapore this month are crowding on to sampans to ride to a tiny off-shore island where they hope to lay up a year's store of good luck. Many of the pilgrims are women - praying for the birth of a son.
Smothered by people and paper pennants, the small boats head for Pulau Kusu about four miles from Singapore's wharf area. Pulau kusu is Malay for tortoise island is named after its shape.
Normally its deserted. But throughout October - the ninth month of the Chinese calendar - it's crowded every weekend with Singaporeans praying at the altar of Tua Peh Kong, the God of Prosperity, for long life and good luck.
Shrouded by incense, the altar is in a temple partly carved out of the tortoise's rocky head and party supported on wooden stilts resting on the sea bed. The pilgrims jam the small temple and the air is thick with the smoke of hundreds of joss sticks.
The pilgrims shake bunches of prayer sticks until one drops out. The number on the stick is interpreted by a temple spiritualist and he's paid according to the wealth of the pilgrim and the satisfaction he gives.
Tua Peh Kong demands a sacrifice too but the ritual is informal. Pink tortoise-shaped buns are favoured but candles, joss sticks or burnt paper flowers will do.
From the temple, the pilgrim's path leads to the shrine of a Malay saint - a climb up 123 steps to the tope of the island's tortoise shell. Here, again, they offer sacrifice to ask for health, luck and longevity. No one is quite sure who the Malay saint is but they never pass him by.
There's just one rule of Pulau Kusu. Since the saint was a Malay and presumably a Moslem, it is taboo to bring pork on to the island for a picnic lunch. And if the pilgrims get too hot praying, there's plenty of water around tortoise island to paddle or swim in.