HANOI: With an average annual income of around $2,000 most Vietnamese would not consider themselves especially wealthy. But in the afterlife you can be a billionaire thanks to paper offerings made by your scions.
In a Hanoi workshop artisans are putting the finishing touches to a nearly life size cardboard model of a Rolls Royce. Close by is a giant paper aeroplane — a blue Boeing 787 Dreamliner complete with crew members.
But these are not children toys. They are “hang ma”, paper offerings representing real life items that are burned in the belief they will travel as smoke to the afterlife to be used by the dead.
“We believe our dead relatives will receive these assets as soon as we burn them,” Nguyen Nam, one of the team members finishing the Rolls Royce, told AFP.
“It takes me about two weeks to finish a car like this, with the help of two more men.”
The burning of votive offerings for use in the afterlife is a common practice in China and nearby countries that have Chinese ancestry or communities such as Vietnam and Cambodia.
In Vietnam, hang ma burnings reach their peak during July’s mid-lunar festival, which ends on Wednesday.
There was a time when such offerings largely revolved around burning paper clothes, fake money and food items.
Now the hang ma are just as likely to be iPads, laptops, luxury cars and villas with swimming pools.
Dang Xuan Nhi, a 70-year-old maker of votive offerings, says it is vital to provide ancestors with the kind of luxuries and everyday items their offspring either enjoy or hope to have in the future.
“Like this life, like the afterlife,” he explained. “What we have here on earth, they have the same there.”
It often take days for artisans to hand-make the paper models, which cost anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred.
But it takes only a few minutes for them to burn.
According to unofficial reports, up to 50,000 tonnes of paper money and genuine belongings worth millions of dollars are burned every year in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s communist authorities have tried to encourage people to spend less on the offerings.
But their appeals appear to fall on deaf ears as locals strongly believe that looking after your ancestors will bring real rewards back on earth.
“We burn this for our dead relatives so that they feel happy. And if they are happy, they will bless us with good health, happiness and luck,” said Do Mai Hoa, a villager on the outskirts of Hanoi.