Sun, May 20, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan’s lost culture of gratitude

By Chen Ching-chih 陳清池

Among the sumptuous food offerings my grandmother would make to the temple deities she would include a dozen red turtle-shaped sweet rice cakes. After returning home from each temple visit she shared the rice cakes with relatives and neighbors. Supposedly, people who ate the cakes would share godly blessings and, having received the favor, the folk thanked my grandma by saying jin lo lat (big thanks).

I also enjoyed accompanying my grandma on her temple visits during festivals. Like all kids I was excited to see the parade of fierce-looking giant temple guardians known as dua sian ang (大仙迋) in their colorful martial arts costumes and almost slow-motion-like walks with their long arms swinging back and forth. There was also the good-looking Third Prince (三太子), followed inevitably by various palanquin-riding deities in the parade. Firecrackers contributed to the atmosphere while smoke and sparks filled the air — temperatures must have risen by a couple of degrees. This was what we called noisy and bustling dau nau ze (鬥鬧熱).

Reports and videos on Taiwan’s temple festivals show that today temple festivals are bigger and more exciting than ever. Temple festivals are an important part of Taiwan’s folk culture and they have become quite sensual. Newly added elements include youth-oriented music and even scantily clad dancing girls. The fanciful-looking Third Prince is as popular abroad as at home and young Taiwanese have certainly helped to raise Taiwan’s visibility abroad at a time when the nation is not recognized diplomatically by the international community on account of China’s political and economic influence.

The revival of temple festivals since the end of martial law in 1987 is great for Taiwan, but the festival spirit should also be revived. As an island nation in the western Pacific, Taiwan has regularly been hit by natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons. Taiwanese consequently have traditionally appealed to Matsu. Praying for protection and showing the deities gratitude has become very much a culture in Taiwan.

The expression of gratitude as represented by saying lo lat to deities and to each other is the essence and spirit of that culture of gratitude. It should be revived and popularized. It would be a wonderful thing if younger Taiwanese learned to say lo lat while expressing gratitude to others. Is it not a very Taiwanese way?

It is truly inspirational for us all to know that it is this American in Chiayi who has rediscovered for us the significance and beauty of the term lo lat in Taiwanese culture and is leading the crusade to popularize its use. To him, we should all say: Lo lat! Thank you!

Chen Ching-chih is a professor emeritus of history at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.

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