Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tomb Sweeping Day April 4, 2012


I had a Wednesday off earlier on this month because of Tomb Sweeping Day. It’s a national holiday in Taiwan where you pay respects to your ancestors…and it’s a good excuse for a family reunion. ;) I was really lucky to get a chance to see what people traditionally do on this day by going with Albert and his family to their family tomb. Another cool thing about it was that it was Hakka style (that’s his ethnicity).



We rented a car to drive to a place in the middle of nowhere in Hsinchu county. It was on a mountaintop. There were many tombs near each other and you could hear lots of people doing ceremonies and things there. A family tomb basically looks like a small building built into a hill. Urns of cremated ancestors are inside. On the outside there’s a plaque with family names and that’s what you pay respects to.



There were lots of tables set up with food offerings- whole cooked chicken (heads included), fruit, cakes… and what was very shocking to me, a dead pig lying on a table. It’s supposed to be very traditional and it means something (Albert couldn’t tell me what)… but it made me think about being vegetarian again.





Everyone there was Hakka- and only one of them besides Albert was able to speak English to me. They mostly spoke Hakka among themselves but I got to talk to some in Mandarin. Tomb Sweeping is really just a family affair so everyone assumed I was married, since I came here with Albert. One of the elders wanted to make a speech and introduce me as a new member of the family. Oops! A little embarrassing- thankfully that got cleared up.
As for the ceremony, every family member had a few sticks of incense and first “bai-bai”ed to TudiGong (the Earth god). (“bai-bai” means you bow and pay respects that way) Then they put some of the incense in front of him. Then they “bai-bai”ed to the ancestor plaque and put the rest of the incense in front of that. The leader of the ceremony said something in Hakka and they set flowers in front of the tomb and spilled alcohol there as well.




After that was a little break. People created a bonfire and burned paper money so that their ancestors could have it in their next life. Then they set up firecrackers to go around the entire back of the tomb. They said some words and “bai-bai”ed to the ancestor plaque again. Then they lit the firecrackers and that was the end of it. People started cutting the pig into pieces so you could take some of it home. I’m glad I didn’t get any to take home.



It was really cool to see this ceremony! It was not nearly as exciting as the Mazu festival but it was still really interesting to me! Some other families played Taiwanese opera music to entertain the ancestors and I got stared at a lot. Someone asked me if I was European again. ;)

I made a little video about the Dajia Festival! Check it out! :)

DaJi Mazu Festival

On the train

I got to experience something really awesome earlier this month in Taizhong, Taiwan: the annual Festival of Mazu! Mazu is an indigenous goddess of the sea/mother goddess that's worshipped in Asian countries. Every year in Taizhong Mazu is taken on a pilgrimmage around different temples in the area. Basically that means they take a statue/idol of Mazu and parade her around in a palanquin like royalty and it's meant to be like a vacation for her. Lots of people come to celebrate it, and when I say "lots" I mean more people than I've ever seen in my life! They all wanted to see Mazu and get blessed by her. It almost felt like a riot to be honest. At different stops along the pilgrimmage people would set up tables with food offerings and incense. They also had tents and lots of free food for the people who came, as a way of asking for blessings. People also believed that if they crounched underneath the parade and Mazu passed over them then they would get blessings that way. There were also lots of firecrackers and some were lit dangerously close to me!
The market on the way to the temple

Albert and I went together by high speed rail to DaJia, the place where the Mazu temple is...near Taizhong. (Taizhong means "the middle of Taiwan" by the way. :) So you can guess where that is geographically). We then took another short train ride to a temple where Mazu was going to stop. Albert was mostly intereted in the free food. I couldn't stop taking pictures! So many people were speaking Taiwanese- and there were quite a few foreigners too. I heard that most Taiwanese people never go to this festival, it's mostly the elderly and foreigners who attend. And every Taiwanese person I asked about it back in Taipei said they've never been and don't really feel interested in going because of all the people. Lucky I convinced Albert to come.
So I saw Mazu go by and she was carried in a cart-type thing that you'd carry a king or queen in... What are those called again? :'( My English vocabulary is really going out the window... Anyways. They were bouncing the 'caravan' or whatever as they were moving her. Albert said it's because it shows Mazu's power- she's so happy and energetic that the 'caravan' is moving "by itself" up and down.
We saw Mazu right near the train station. Then we walked  to the nearby temple and checked that out. It was small but lots of people there nonetheless. I wanted to offer incense there and a lady showed me how to do it properly. You had to face the entrace of the temple and "baibai" three times. That means you hold the incense between closed palms (like you're praying) and move it up and down three times. Then you turn around and face the inside of the temple. (I didn't pay attention to which god it was meant for) and you do the same thing. Then you stick the incense in the incense burner (looks like a big cauldron) and it has to be perfectly straight.
From there we train-ed it back to the DaJia temple and walked through a street set up like a nightmarket. There were lots of interesting people there. I saw a boy in roller skates who had a pet parrot chained to his wrist. I ate deep fried mushrooms. Albert had a drink called frog eggs but they weren't realy frog legs, thankfully. When we got to the temple I couldn't believe how busy it was. People were camped out on ledges and in trees at the sides of the temple so they could get a good view of Mazu when she comes back to her resting place there. Inside was a madhouse! Everyone was offering incense and we were packed so close that I was afraid my hair or my skin would get burned. Despite the crowd it was still beautiful there and I felt really cool seeing it. I got a video walking around the place so if you watch it you can see all the people and what it really looked like. I offered incense here as well. ;)
We had to leave before Mazu got back in order to catch our train. It would have been fun to see but I'm glad we didn't get back to Taipei too late.
Worshipping Mazu was actually banned in Mainland China by Communist leaders for a while and because of that the tradition is mostly lost. Taiwan escaped the Communist influence and so it has been able to preserve a lot of the cultural traditions wiped out during the Cultural Revolution. So this was really unique to experience the Mazu Festival here. I had a really good time! :)