Beyond Paper Effigies

It’s been a busy month for traditional paper oblation craftsmen like Mr Loh Ah Ban. The Hungry Ghost Festival celebrated from 27th July, will mark its final day on 24th August 2014. Up till now, orders continue to increase at Ah Ban Paper Oblation Shop located at Lebuh Carnarvon, George Town. With the help of his family and crew of craftsmen, the team paces hurriedly to fulfill orders after orders of paper houses, miniature paper replicas and giant paper effigies of Chinese Gods, in particular the ‘Da Shi Ye’ or the God of Hades.

‘Two days ago, someone made a special order for a paper effigy of a Chinese God. The harder ones take a few days to make,’ explained Mr Loh's daughter, simply known as Ean. On a regular basis, each member of the team will be responsible for creating different parts of the structure such as the head or body before combining it into a complete master piece.

‘It’s not easy to learn my father’s work as it takes a lot of time to master it, about 10 years to learn everything. Therefore, we picked it up progressively by parts of the structure’ shared Ean. ‘Last year, my father  requested that I learnt the craft whenever I was free because he feared that it would disappear if no one took up the trade.’

Like most family-run businesses, the children would continue to take up the trade once their parents retire. However for Ean, who is a graphic design graduate from England, she has her mind set on educating the public about paper oblation craft instead of carrying on her family legacy. 'In the future, my brother-in-law will take over the business.'

As Ean sees it, the paper oblation trade is an art form that should be explored beyond the general perception of paper effigies being merely religious offerings. 'Once a friend requested me to create a Christmas tree. So I applied my father's art technique by using the same materials used in the workshop to create it. I am keen to explore this idea further,' Ean shared. 

Ean strongly feels that preserving traditional arts and crafts is crucial in sustaining Penang's cultural beliefs. 'I wish my father would build a museum to showcase his craft to the public,' said Ean with a smile. 'In countries like Taiwan and China, such art form is slowly disappearing. My father felt sad when he learnt about it.'

'In Penang, there are many traditional handicraft work that are not popularly known. We should do something to preserve our history and find a way to present it to the world.'

Ah Ban Paper Oblation Shop is located at 198A, Lebuh Carnarvon in George Town. The shop opens daily from 9.00am - 6.00pm and their contact is 04-261 5292.