Monday, September 24, 2007

Singapore's "Magic Monkey" Trees Inspire Cult, Cynics

monkey god treeThe discovery of two "monkey heads" poking out of the bark of an otherwise non-descript African Mahogany tree have sparked a minor craze in the southeast Asian state, as devotees seek numbers from what they believe to be a god living in the tree.

Bananas, peanuts and peaches have been left as offerings to please the monkey god, sacred in Chinese mythology and Hinduism. A wheel-like device which kneeling gamblers turn by hand in front of the tree to spit out numbered balls has helped fuel the mania.

"Most people come for lottery numbers", explained Madam Kang, who had traveled half way across the island to join a crowd of a hundred onlookers milling around the tree on a weekend afternoon.

monkey god tree"There were three car accidents by the tree but no one was hurt, so people believe it was the monkey god protecting them."

Not long after the monkey god reportedly aided a series of wins, another three trees bearing gnarls that resemble gods were discovered along the same -- now jammed -- road.

Cartons of milk and more joss sticks garnish a small shrine set up in front of the elephant god Ganesha on a nearby tree, where a nobbly "elephant" head juts from the trunk.

Meters away, more onlookers snap images of a bark outline of the Chinese mercy goddess, Guan Yin, while others pat an oval bark eruption on another tree, ringed with garlands and said to be a tiger-dragon god tree.

monkey god treeDespite the sacred trees' popularity, not all are convinced.

"The uneven bark surface at the base of the tree trunk is the result of callusing, a natural reaction in which the tree grows new bark over injured areas", a spokeswoman for the National Parks Board told the official Straits Times newspaper.

Other skeptics say the concept is simply too good to be true.

"If the tree can give money, most of the people in Singapore are not going to work. They'd just go to the tree and ask for the number," laughed taxi driver Mahmud Sanusi.

"After a few months maybe somebody will find a rock, with Mickey Mouse on it," said another taxi driver Chan Chee Siong.

But for others, sacred and lucky trees are a reality.

Bamboo and wooden "wishing trees", where devotees pray and hang written wishes, are found in several Chinese temples. And small shrines, nestled into the trunks of the roadside trees, are a common sight on this verdant island.

Story here.

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