Thousands of Taiwanese placate souls of dead in colorful Ghost Month rite

KEELUNG, Taiwan (AP) — Thousands of Taiwanese lit small paper homes and scattered them onto the placid waters of the South China Sea early Tuesday, part of an annual rite meant to placate the souls of the dead during the island's colorful Ghost Month observances.

Every year Taiwanese honor wandering ghosts in the hope they will cease to haunt the living. Chinese tradition — embraced by most Taiwanese — holds that the gates of the nether world open once every 12 months and ghosts walk the earth freely for 30 days.

Those who treat them well — showing their obeisance by burning models of items the ghosts might covet — are assured a year of peace and prosperity.

This year's observance in the gritty northern port city of Keelung began with a three-hour parade featuring lion dances and traditional music.

Thousands of Taiwanese marched through the city streets, holding banners aloft with elaborately written family names and chanting ritual prayers.

Wu Hou-jing, a representative of the Wu family association, said the event was meant to bring peace to the souls of people who had perished in both land and sea battles in the area.

"People from southeast China immigrated to Taiwan," he said. "Sometimes they would become casualties in land battles and sometimes in sea battles, like when the Dutch invaded the region. We are holding a ceremony for all of them, to help bring them peace."

Shortly after midnight, parade participants launched dozens of elaborately painted paper houses onto the sea, setting them alight amid a cacophony of exploding firecrackers and ritual chants.

"We are lighting these water lanterns to give some light to the wandering souls," said Taoist priest Lee Wu-chi. "The lanterns will lead the souls of the ghosts safely back to shore."