Thu, Nov 05, 2009 - Page 13 News List

Friendly fire

Siao Liouciou hosts a religious festival beginning today that harks back 300 years and culminates in a spectacular boat burning ceremony

By Richard Hazeldine  /  STAFF REPORTER

VIEW THIS PAGE Spending US$300,000 and six months to construct a full-size replica junk and then setting fire to it may seem extravagant, but the residents of Pingtung County’s Donggang Township (東港) undertake the ritual once every three years. The burning is the climax of the “Wang boat” festival, an important religious observance centered around Donggang’s Donglong Temple (東隆宮), one of about eight temples in Taiwan that venerate the deity “Wang Yeh.”

According to legend, Wen Wang-yeh (溫王爺) was a seventh-century Chinese dynastic official who was given the posthumous title of “God’s naval patrolman” by the emperor after dying in an accident while on a marine patrol.

The emperor, whose life Wang had once saved, ordered celebrations to be held in his honor.

Donglong Temple was constructed around the turn of the 18th century after locals saw signs that Wang wanted to settle in Taiwan.

Wang boat festivities usually last a week, with the boat making several “inspection” trips around the town before it is meticulously loaded with cargo — food, livestock (models, not real animals), clothes and provisions for the 36-strong crew of deities — and taken to Jhenhai Park (鎮海公園) for its spectacular demise.

The festival was originally initiated to protect local inhabitants from pestilence, but nowadays is more of a general prayer for good fortune.

While it may not be as high-profile as the celebrations held for Wang Yeh’s more famous cohort, Matzu, the event is taken very seriously by Donggang residents, many of whom take several days off work to join in. Townsfolk swear that the ritual is responsible for unexplained phenomena, with Peter Hsiao (蕭枝林), the temple’s public relations chief, attributing the change of direction in Typhoon Parma last month, which spared Taiwan a direct hit, to Wang Yeh.

The festivities are growing in popularity. An estimated 120,000 participants, including international and domestic tourists, descended on Donggang on Oct. 16 for the final day of this year’s festival.

The good news for those that didn’t catch

the Donggang festival is that you haven’t missed the boat.

Sanlong Temple (三隆宮) on Siao Liouciou (小琉球), a small island around 30 minutes by boat from Donggang Harbor, holds its much smaller Wang Yeh festival from today to its fiery finale early on Wednesday morning.

Besides the festival, Siao Liouciou is a great place to spend a long weekend and get away from it all as it offers clear blue seas, fresh ocean air and most importantly, peace and quiet.



Getting there:

» Donggang is around an hour by bus from Kaohsiung’s HSR Zuoying Station (高鐵左營車站) and Kaoshiung TRA Station (高雄車站)

» Public and private ferries sail from Donggang Harbor to Siao Liouciou throughout the day

» Tickets cost NT$410 for a return (NT$210 for children) and the journey takes about 30 minutes. Call (08) 833-7493 or (08) 832-5806 for details

» Boats also leave infrequently from Kaohsiung’s True Love Pier at weekends. Call (07) 521-5838 for details

Getting around:

» If you haven’t already arranged a pick-up, scooter touts will be waiting at the harbor when you disembark. Scooters cost around NT$300 per 24 hours

» Bikes can also be rented from many hotels or the tourist center for around NT$200 per day

Where to stay:

» Located on a cliff top away from the main port, Ba Tsun Villas (八村Villas館, is a great place to curl up with a book for a day or two. It has spacious, well-decorated doubles looking out to sea over a large, beautifully maintained lawn starting from NT$3,600 per night on weekdays

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