Sun | Jul 22, 2018

Egerton Chang | Presidential odds, homage to ancestors, and Gah San

Published:Sunday | May 15, 2016 | 12:00 AM
The younger Chang generation visiting the graves of Percy and Alice.
Richard Tenn performing the Gah San ritual at the Chinese Cemetery in St Andrew

Well, 'The Donald' has trumped all his Republican rivals and is now their presumptive nominee.

Meanwhile, 'The Hillary' is still left to battle a dinosaur with the potential bite of a gnat. That is, Bernie Sanders, who, with all his far-from-insignificant delegates and votes, has but a ghost of a chance of upsetting Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side.

He, more than likely, will not even win the 'normal' pledged delegates much less the plurality of delegates, plus super-delegates.

But fight she must, for she is yet to receive the required number of delegates to win the nomination.

The odds of Clinton winning the Democratic nomination, that being a subset of her winning the presidency in that it must occur before she vies for the presidency, must, of necessity, be much less than 1/3, which is the odds now (May 12 - Paddy Power) being offered on her winning the presidency.

Actually, the chances of Hillary losing the Democratic nomination would be a 'yugh' upset in that she is a 1/40 odds-on favourite in that regard.

Bearing in mind that, in my column of March 27, titled 'Egerton Chang: Andrew, Hillary and Donald', the odds being offered for Hillary to capture the presidency was 4/9. That means that even with Sanders still theoretically in the race and even with Trump being now the presumptive Republican nominee, her odds have shortened nevertheless to 1/3.

The Donald, who at March 27 was 5/2, was still at 5/2 on May 12. That means that after now disposing of all his Republican rivals, his overall odds for the presidency have not improved.

It must be pointed out that Donald Trump has been beating the pundits, if not the odds, at every step of the way. Even though it would take a situation a little short of a 'yugh' upset, if anyone can do it, The Donald can.

While the smart money is on Hillary, with almost six months yet to go, that remains to be seen.




On Sunday, April 10, my family and I celebrated Gah San to pay homage to our ancestors in general and our mother and father in particular.

Percy Chang (Poppa, Pops) and his wife, Alice Chang (Momma, Miss Alice) were the owners and operators of Chang's Emporium, Jamaica's first supermarket, at 86 Half-Way Tree Road (opposite the Half-Way Tree Post Office).

Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, along with wives, husbands and friends, gathered to pay homage to those that went before.


Chinese Tradition


Most Chinese, and especially the Hakka from Guangdong, take time out from their regular lives to pay respect to their ancestors on Ching Ming Jie, Mandarin for 'Tomb Sweeping Day', or literally 'Pure Brightness Festival', referring to the start of spring.

It is pronounced Chin Min in Hakka, or more commonly called Gah San, literally 'Adorn the Hills', since for feng shui reasons, the tombs were traditionally on the side of a hill with good views of a nearby body of water.

While it is observed on April 4-6 in China, in Jamaica, it is celebrated on the Sunday immediately after April 5. It was important that the date be regularised so that the living relatives know when to congregate, and also that the spirits know when to expect them!


Family Feast


Steeped in tradition, the festival is a time to reflect, and to honour and give thanks to our forefathers. In many regions, the day culminates in a large feast to which the whole family is invited, and in that sense it is as much about connecting with the living family as it is with respecting the departed.

While the responsibility still falls to the eldest son, the whole family participates in this festival, which is also associated with going outdoors, enjoying springtime, courtship, flying kites, and planting trees.

Weeds are removed, the grass cut, and the tomb cleaned, swept or painted. These preparations are undertaken before the offerings are made.

Two candles are lit and placed at the foot of the tomb (representing the balance of the ying and the yang). Homage to the ancestors is given by family members present, in order of seniority, by respectfully bowing three times while holding lighted joss sticks in the right fist cupped in the left hand at chest height.

The act of burning items such as the 'hell' money makes them available to the ancestors on the other side, so in some countries people will burn elaborate paper models of houses, cars, computers, TVs, etc, as well. Burning incense (sow heong) is believed to nourish the spirits.

My family, I must admit, do not follow these traditions to the fullest. We don't always carry food, nor do we burn paper models of cars, houses, etc. But we always carry flowers and burn imitation money (like zillions of dollars).


Blended Customs


We try to involve every member of the family, even babies as the accompanying photo shows. We, and most other Chinese Jamaican, have combined ancient traditions with local religious practices. For instance, my family prays the 'Our Father', the 'Hail Mary' and the 'Glory be' prayer (Gloria Patri) at each grave site visited.

During the 1970s, the Jamaican Chinese population was significantly reduced because of the high migration in that period. The Chinese Cemetery fell into disrepair and ruination, and although Gah San was observed, the only maintenance to the property was a token 'bushing out' for this event.




Fundraising for the restoration of the Chinese Cemetery began in 2003. Over the past 13 years, the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA) from which most of the above narrative is taken has been doing yeoman's work in restoring the cemetery to reflect its true historical significance.

This required rebuilding the front entrance (designed by architect Clifton Yap), reconstructing the front and perimeter walls around this 101/2-acre Waltham Park Road property, and performing general and regular maintenance.

This daunting task was carried out by a few dedicated members of the Restoration Committee led by Chairman Robert Lee.

At this year's annual Gah San, which was supervised by the CBA, the newly restored cemetery was a joy to all who attended, giving pride to their Chinese heritage and honouring the more than 3,200 persons (not all Chinese) interred there.

- Egerton Chang is a businessman. Email feedback to and