In Vietnam and several other Asian nations, votive objects are burnt ceremonially during certain festivals to “send” them to dead ancestors in the afterworld.
A woman sells votive objects at Ba Chieu Market in HCM City's Binh Thanh District. The votive objects include house, villar, car, horse and even housemaid -- all made of paper
They could be cars, horses, houses and villas, clothes, sandals, hats, banknotes, dragon boats, and even state-of-the-art iphones.
There is a new entrant to the list this year -- a housemaid.
The offering of votive objects possibly originated from a belief that dead can support their descendants in this world and help them become wealthy.
“This year my husband and I have earned substantially from our business and so will offer a better ceremony to our ancestors,” a woman buying votive objects at a shop on Hang Ma Street in Hanoi said.
“Last year we offered an SH motorbike and a house; so it will be a villa and a car this year to make them happy.
“We have bough a full set including home gadgets like air conditioners, a washing machine, clothes, sandals, and banknotes, and an osin [housemaid] for VND15 million ($732).”
Two times a year people make the offerings -- during the seventh lunar month, and a week before Tet (the Lunar New Year).
Rich families, however, organise festivals and offerings through the seventh month which is believed to be the month of the dead.
During the month, people also go to pagodas to pray for the health of parents and grandparents who are alive and the salvation of the souls of dead people.
Votive objects are also offered during funerals, death anniversaries, and some special offering ceremonies.
Vietnamese Buddhist believers burn votive objects for their ancestors during a ceremony to mark Vu Lan, a day to honor the dead, at Duoc Thuong pagoda, outside Hanoi August 14, 2011 (Photo: Reuters)
With demand for these products being big, making them is a traditional craft in many villages around Vietnam, some doing it for hundreds of years. Most families in such villages earn their living from making paper votive objects.
One craft village in Duyen Truong Hamlet in Hanoi’s Thuong Tin District sees a steady stream of cars and buses coming to place orders and pick up products for delivery.
In many houses, the lights remain on well into the night as men prepare bamboos sticks to create frames of horses or villas or cars, while women and children paste color paper on and make decorations.
Their prices depend on size and lifelike appearance but this year they have generally gone up by 30 percent from last year.
Fashion clothes are sold for VND50,000 – 200,000 ($2.5 – 10) depending on the model. A Honda SH motorbike is VND150,000 and a multi-storey villa VND150,000 – 350,000 ($7.28-USD16.9). A Mercedes is VND3 million ($145.6).
This year a dummy is included in ceremonial votive offerings.
A normal ceremony often costs a family hundreds of thousands of dong but could rise up to VND20 million ($970.8).
In Hanoi, shops selling paper votive and other offerings are mainly located on Luong Van Can, Hang Bong, Hang Dao, and Hang Ma Streets, but vendors are also mushrooming in alleys to serve customers at their door.
As long as Vietnamese believe that the world of the dead is similar to the land of the living, the villages making paper votive objects do not have to fear for their future.