The extensive scholarly literature on hungry or wandering ghosts, that is, the spirits of deceased humans who do not receive sacrifice from their descendants, has mostly focussed on the souls of the ghosts. Less attention has been paid to their physical remains. Using existing literature and ethnographic field observation including interviews and participation in rituals, this paper explores changes in the customs related to the worship of unclaimed physical remains in the Hakka villages of Neipu, Pingtung county, southern Taiwan.
There are two broad categories of remains that are worshipped in these villages: dark spirits (yinshen) and gentlemen-of-old (gulao daren). The former are worshipped by people from different families and with different surnames. Dark spirits who manifest their powers may become deified as gods. Gentlemen-of-old are worshipped only by a single family or surname. Some remains are buried in ancestral graves, and are considered "ancestor-like". The evolution and variation in the forms of worship toward ownerless remains in Neipu show how the Hakka people of Taiwan transform some beings from demonic into non-demonic spirits.