Hotdogs. Crabs. Broccoli. These are some of the items that come to mind when thinking of things that get steamed. While it’s hardly an exhaustive list, it’s fair to say ‘humans’ would not be be on even the lengthiest of lists, unless maybe you’re Jeffrey Dahmer.
But for some people in the Taoist religion, human steaming is perfectly natural.
Lim Ba, a 68-year-old Taoist psychic in Malaysia died after a human steaming ritual at a Chinese temple went awry. He is believed to have died of a heart attack while suffering second degree burns as he sat atop a wok covered with a giant metal lid.
Lim spent 30 minutes inside before he began pounding on the lid, imploring onlookers to get him out of the world’s worst sauna. He was performing the stunt as part of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.
His son, Kang Hai said his father had undergone heart surgery last year and was taking medication for hypertension. Lim had been performing the stunt for 10 years, despite objections from family members. According to his daughter Wei Ling, Lim once spent 75 minutes inside such a contraption.
“This ‘steaming man’ ritual is rarely performed,” said Tan Hoe Chioew, President of the Federation of Taoist Associations of Malaysia, “And I dare not comment on what preparations are needed before you perform this.”
Tan said the stunt is “not advisable.”
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival, which starts on the eve of the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, occasionally features rituals involving tests of endurance, such as a ceremony in which festival-goers walk over shards of glass. In Thailand, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is celebrated in even more graphic ways, and include tongue slashing and impalement.