Favourite Uncle

A Tua Pek Kong statue sold on the online store Feng Shui Cabinet. (https://fengshuicabinet.com.my/)

I have joined a Facebook group devoted to Tua pek kong or Dà bógōng 大伯公, a deity that Malaysians (and other South-east Asian devotees) worship, and refer to as the God of Prosperity. Tua pek is Hokkien for eldest uncle, while gong is a title of respect. Dà bógōng is just the Mandarin version of the same.

In a group post, some members were discussing what you can ask from the deity. Lottery numbers, one said, only to be told not to do this! In general, it’s agreed that Tua Pek Kong’s blessings lead to a prosperous business, success in studies and good health for the elderly, as well as other rewards. Perhaps it’s considered crass to ask to win the lottery? The person never explained himself.

I wonder how gods feel to always be asked for stuff. Devotees are only devotees if you give them nice things, or because they hope to be given nice things. I remember my sister saying she was sad because I was going to burn in hell as a result of being an atheist. So … should I believe in god only to escape being barbecued for all eternity? That seems a pretty crass reason for worshipping the holy trinity!

Back to Tua Pek Kong: He is though to be an incarnation of Fú 福, one of the three stars (sanxing  三星), the one whose name means good fortune or blessings. I guess his devotees choose to understand ‘fortune’  and ‘blessings’ as monetary benefits. It could be that Tua Pek Kong only confers happiness and peace of mind, but that is not the case, according to his devotees who belong to the Fb group!

Tua Pek Kong was a real man, a Hakka Chinese, named Zhang Li 张理, who was headed for Sumatra, but ended up in Penang Island when his vessel was caught in a storm. Zhang Li stayed on in Penang, which was then inhabited by only fifty people. He was a highly respected and beloved member of the small fishing community to the extent that he was deified following his death. A temple was built near his grave and this temple still stands today, in Tanjung Tokong, Penang (below), as does his tombstone and those of his sworn brothers.

I can’t wait for the travelling restrictions to be lifted so I can visit the temple in Penang. And also other Tua Pek Kong temples which I can get to, like the ones in Melaka and Pulau Ubin, Singapore.

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