TANKI     The Ancient Gods, Rituals and Spirit-Mediumship of Folk Taoism in Modern Singapore

Tan Wee Cheng, Singapore   weecheng.com
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The Sacrifice

 Then the self-mortification begins.  The tanki performs mortification using a few ceremonial weapons.  These could include swords which he uses to beat or even slash his body.  Occasionally he pierces his tongue with skewers to draw blood, or metal poles or spikes through his checks.  Another commonly-used equipment is the “prick ball”, a metal ball with 108 spikes protruding from its core.  The tanki usually swings the ball around via a metal chain, hitting his body with it, cutting his back in the process.  Quite a bloody affair indeed! 

To the believers, the drawing of blood signifies personal sacrifice and the powers of the deities in possession of the tanki.  Some scholars, somewhat skeptical, often observe that the tankis tend to slow the momentum of the swinging weapons just before they hit the skin.  This means that any wound or cut sustained by the tanki is largely superficial, hardly more than a scratch.   


The medium mutilates himself as proof of possession


Further mutilation


The Monkey God manifesting himself through the medium 


The possession ends

In some major ceremonies, however, the tankis may pierce their cheeks and tongue with skewers, drawing copious quantity of blood and yet appearing to feel little pain, as evidence of providential protection.  Practitioners say that the wounds are real though they hardly feel pain when possessed by the gods; the pain comes immediately after they recover from the trance.  Even then, these wounds tend to heal fast, and rather miraculously as well. 

The blood drawn from the piercing is ued to scribble words representing messages from the gods on charm paper and embroidered cloth pieces or flags.  Followers sometimes bring the charm paper home, burn them, and then drink water with the ashes of the charm paper in it. 

Eventually, the tankis, still in their trance, would return to their dragon chair.  The gongs would be beaten and the tankis gradually return to their “unpossessed” or “natural” state.  As sudden as it began, the ceremony would come to an end.  The tanki would open his eyes, wipe his body with rags and proceed to keep his tools. 

Just another day of work for tankis and shamans in Singapore.

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Tan Wee Cheng 2004