Rice For The After-Life

Nationality: Chinese/Vietnamese
Primary Language: English
Other language(s): Mandarin, Cheo Chow (Chinese Dialect)
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: LA, California
Performance Date: 3/24/2024


My informant, AC, is a friend of mine from my freshman year at USC from Los Angeles, California. I talked with her about her parents one day whilst we took a break from working on a project together. I recalled a moment where she got mad about not finishing a plate full of just rice, and she told me a story about her mother’s rants about rice in her past. She mentioned that her mom would scold her for not finishing her rice at home and she said that her mother gave a rather spiritual reason than the reason I originally thought. So I questioned her about it further and this is what she told me:


“My mom used to tell me that for every grain of rice I didn’t finish, it would come back to haunt me in the afterlife. She explained to me as a child that the grains of rice I didn’t finish would turn into worms I would be forced to eat once I died and went into the afterlife. She used to tell me this: ‘Carry your weight of grain or be crushed by the burden of consumed destiny.’ I didn’t really know what to think of it, I mean even now it alarms me yeah, but it’s not something I would personally just blindly believe. Spooky though.”


In my research of this topic, I at first didn’t really find anything. I had to really dig, as AC didn’t give much more information about the topic she described because she claims she couldn’t really remember much else. So, because of her ethnic background and cultural history, I decided to ask around to other friends with similar backgrounds and cultures and with the help of them and the internet once I knew what I was searching for, I found this: Apparently, there is a cultural belief related to rice in some Southeast Asian and East Asian cultures, particularly in the Philippines, Indonesia, and parts of China and Japan, known as “Bangaan” or “Bunao.” This belief revolves around the idea that rice grains should not be wasted, as doing so can result in punishment in the afterlife. According to this belief, when rice grains are wasted or thrown away, they turn into worms or insects that represent the spirit of the rice. These worms are believed to haunt the person who wasted the rice, and in the afterlife, the person may have to eat these worms as a form of punishment or purification. The concept itself reflects the cultural value placed on rice as a staple food and the importance of not wasting resources. It is also tied to traditional agricultural practices, where rice was seen as a sacred crop and wasting it was considered disrespectful to the deities or spirits associated with rice cultivation. I am amazed by this concept and especially that metaphor, I mean wow, it has such meaning behind its spookiness. I personally have never heard of this and when doing further research on this I ended up learning that this concept and belief has been native to South-East Asian communities for centuries. This belief even ties into the idea of polytheism, that being that gods of rice existed and were worshiped in certain cultures like in the Philippines and certain areas of China. I found this information to be very intriguing, especially how these types of stories and cultural and religious beliefs continue to spread to this day.