Wangkang, a ceremony by the Fujian or Hokkien Chinese in Melaka, Malaysia, honours the deity Ong Yah. The event includes a “royal barge” that’s trotted across the state to pick up wandering ghosts and evil spirits. Then the boat is burned in a cremation ritual to send them to the netherworld.

It’s a spectacular parade, full of pomp and pageantry, that celebrates centuries of culture and tradition passed down from generations before. The observance dates so far back that none among the five leading Hokkien clans of Melaka really know how it all began.

What they do believe is that they must wait for a proclamation from Ong Yah before arranging a Wangkang. Each clan awaits the deity’s word on who among the spiritual leaders or clan “brothers” – Choo, Woon, Lee, Tee or Pek – will lead the year’s ceremony.

In 2017, the eldest Choo clan was appointed by Ong Yah to organise the parade. It had been 84 years since the deity chose them. The last time Choo ran the show was 1933 during the Great Depression. Thankfully, the clan’s now 189-year-old Cheng Wah Keong Temple is still standing.


The barge built for the 2017 Wangkang to gather up wandering ghosts and spirit them away from humans. Photo: The Star/A Malex Yahaya

Producer Ian Lau went to Melaka last year to record the Wangkang for StarTV’s Living Traditions video series. He spoke with Hau Han Lee, chairman of the temple, who revealed what goes on behind the scenes of the ritual. For example, that the 2017 event cost RM1 million to stage!

Wangkang was already declared an intangible cultural heritage in Malaysia back in 2013, and now it’s been submitted for UNESO’s world cultural heritage status. Watch the video and marvel at this spectacular event, because who knows when Ong Yah will ask for another one.


The barge is set on fire at the end of the parade in a cremation ritual to deliver the spirits unto the deity Ong Yah. Photo: The Star/Allison Lai