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Taiwan: Crazy for Matsu

(Photo is from Arkun's flicker photo album.)

Just like what Backlight53 said:

這禮拜中台灣都在瘋一件事,那就是–大甲媽祖遶境。

this week, there is one thing people in central Taiwan are crazy for. That is Da-jia Matsu's inspection.

Based on Mei-Rong Lin's research, Matsu is the deity most commonly worshipped by Taiwanese people. Matsu's birthday falls on the 23rd day of the third month in the lunar calendar. All the worship activities are held shortly before and after this date. Activities related to the Matsu's inspection tour are very hot, and more and more young people join these activities these years.

What people do in Matsu's inspection tour? Based on backlight53's words:

扣除跟著一起走的和發願無償供應涼水飲料的人,重點就是傳統習俗:鑽轎底。相傳鑽過媽祖轎底的信徒們,來年就能好願。

In addition to walking with Matsu and serving free tea and water because they made the wish, the most important tradition is going through Matsu's palankeen. People believe that after going through Matsu's palankeen, they will have a better luck in the future year.

In 2006, National Youth Commission held a workshop about the belief in Matsu and brought interested young people to join Da-Jia Matsu's inspection tour in central Taiwan. In this special inspection tour, the believers walk eight days (4/21-4/29 this year) for about 300 km. They only eat vegetarian dishes and sleep in temples.

Nycfour in Da-Jia Matsu inspection tour youth exploration group blog talked about the importance of the inspection tour to people who believe in Matsu:

其實很多人心裡藏了很多心事、很多苦楚平常找不到人宣洩,也無法說出口、找人討論,每年就是等待媽祖來,可以持香助禱,把心中所有的委屈與苦楚,趁每年一 次媽祖過境時,把所有心事說給媽祖聽,所以她們每年一定會在街頭巷口等待媽祖路過,媽祖對於長者來說,比心理醫生還要有用。

Many people keep many sad things in their mind. They cannot find anyone to talk to and discuss. They wait for Matsu's inspection tour every year, and hold incense and pray and tell Matsu the bitterness in their life. Because of this, they wait for Matsu's inspection tour every year. To the elders, Matsu is better than psychiatrists.

Because Matsu has very strong social influence in Taiwan, there are some rituals that represent the competition among the local powers. For example, before the inspection tour, local powers would compete for the first incense. In some areas, the group winning the first incense is the most powerful group. In some areas, people even try to ‘rob’ Matsu because they believe Matsu will protect the area where she is located.

Hsiu-Tsen in Da-Jia Matsu inspection tour youth exploration group blog talked about what they saw in the ‘robbing Matsu':

在信徒心中,只要媽祖所到之處,將會得到庇祐,因此會發生所謂「搶轎」的狀況,尤其在彰化,搶轎的情形最為嚴重。在媽祖駐駕彰化南瑤宮前,抬轎的轎夫會換成刑警CID,當地人士會想盡各種方法來阻止神轎前進,例如:煙火瀑布、炮陣等,並安排壯士去搶涼傘,不過今年南瑤宮信徒並沒有成功,CID真的太多了,讓我覺得像是重大刑案才會出現的人力。

These people believe that Matsu will protect the region of inspection tour. Some people try to ‘rob’ Matsu, especially in Chuanghua. Before Matsu went into Nan-Yao Temple, police officers took over Matsu. Local people tried to use fireworks and firecrackers to stop Matsu, and some young and strong men tried to grab the umbrella that belong to Matsu. This year they did not succeed because there are too many police officers. The number of police officers let me feel there was a serious criminal case.

Da-Jia Matsu's inspection tour attracted many people. However, it was not the case decades ago. Based on I-Chun's article:

今天我們拜訪320年歷史的北港朝天宮,雖然北港朝天宮不在大甲媽祖繞境的路上。事實上,在1988年之前,大甲媽祖之所以出巡是因為要來朝天宮參拜父母,因為朝天宮有奉祀媽祖的雙親,所以每年媽祖生日都會來拜見雙親。然而,1988年之後大甲鎮瀾宮決定不再去朝天宮,因為他們不想表現自己媽祖的等級比朝天宮媽祖低。

Today we visit the Chaotien temple at Peikang which is almost 320 years old, however Chaotien temple is not in the plan of the Matzu pilgrimage. In fact, before 1988 the Chaotien temple was the main reason for Da Jia Matzu pilgrimage. Da Jia Matzue pilgrimage was original mean “visit forefathers”, because in the Chaotien temple has worship Matzu’s parents and every year Matzu has to visit her parents. Nevertheless, in 1988 Da Jia Zhen Lan temple has decided not to visit Chaotien temple anymore because Da Jia Xhen Lan temple do not want rank lower than Chaotien in an academy way’s understanding.

What makes Da Jia Xhen Lan temple feels it is superior than other Matsu temples in Taiwan? Based on Kuo-Chou Huang's article, Da Jia Xhen Lan temple brought their Matsu to China in 1987 because the belief in Matsu is originally from China. Thereafter, they think they are more orthodox than others.

Some people think that even though we do not consider how Chinese culture revolution destroyed the belief in Matsu in China, there is difference between Matsu belief in China and Taiwan.

Based on Mei-Rong Lin's research,

媽祖原是海神,台灣先民攜之渡海來台,保佑平安,在台拓墾以來,迭獲庇佑,媽祖已然台灣化,由海神而成雨水之神,「大道公風,媽祖婆雨」的傳說更助長迎媽祖常帶來雨水的事蹟傳播。

Matsu was originally Goddess of the Sea. Our ancestors brought her over with them when they crossed the sea to Taiwan, to protect themselves, and when they moved inwards, cultivating the land of Taiwan, they frequently appealed to her for blessings and protection, and thus Matsu became “Taiwanized,” and having started out as Goddess of the Sea became Goddess of Rain. The Taiwanese saying, “Lord Tatao controls the wind, and the lady Matsu brings the rain” further encouraged the belief that the ritual of “welcoming Matsu” often brought rain.

When some people argued about the political powers behind Matsu, many people only consider Matsu as a religion, like other religions.

Miki said:

宗教,是有光的所在。像孩子一樣,在一片模糊黑暗中,只被光吸引。我喜歡正信宗教帶來的光明力量,在這群默默行進的信徒身上,信仰的力量,變得很正向。

Religion is the place the light is. We are like children, attracted by the light in the darkness. I like the positive power of orthodox religion. When I saw these believers walking silently, the power of belief is very positive.

The movie ‘Island Etude’ has its own blog. The author EtudeBike talked about Matsu in their movie:

「拍攝這部片後,我對『信仰』重新有不同的認識。」對宗教,陳懷恩自有一套看法,他認為「宗教不是用來懷疑,而是用來相信的」

After shooting this movie, I have a different view toward ‘religion.’ Religion is not for doubting, but for believing.

‘We will see what we want to see’ is very suitable to describe what religion is. Although I am not in Taiwan, and I cannot say I am a believer of Matsu, I still watched the movie about Matsu inspection tour happily. I believe in Matsu, because I believe in the people who believe in her.

If you are interested in this activity, you can check ‘the handbook of Da-Jia Matsu inspection tour’. Maybe like Arkun said:

深深感到媽祖進香是極佳的健行/深度旅遊行程,更兼有食宿招待,打著燈籠都找不出這麼好的行程啊!

I feel that Matsu's inspection tour provides good hiking and profound tourism experience with free food and accommodation. You cannot find a better one even with a lantern!

3 comments

  • […] Global Voices Online has an article about the Mazu (媽祖) pilgrimage in Dajia. […]

  • Taiwan is not Thailand.

    The map is wrong.

  • attemborough:
    The map displays a country at random picked from the countries the post is labeled with. This post happens to be labeled with:
    China, Thailand, Taiwan (ROC), Hong Kong (China), Macau (China)
    So the map displayed will be one of these.
    Try reloading the screen and see. :)

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