Sat, Apr 17, 2010 - Page 16 News List

Matsu on the move

The Dajia Matsu Pilgrimage, Taiwan’s largest, is an ideal opportunity to experience the country’s indigenous religious culture — either for one day as a tourist or for the entire nine days as a pilgrim

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Some stayed for a day while others chose to follow Matsu’s sedan chair on foot for the entire route, from its home to the Tienfeng Temple (奉天宮) in Sinkang (新港), Chiayi County, and back again, Wu said.

The total journey is around 350km.

Throughout yesterday afternoon tourists poured into Dajia’s downtown while groups of pilgrims took turns marching up to the temple’s main square to pay their respects and perform for Matsu. One martial arts troupe waved swords and traditional weapons for Yen and Chen, who stood on the temple’s front steps and applauded. After the performance members of the troupe handed Yen and Chen weapons and the pair struck poses for the media’s cameras.

Inside the temple, photographers positioned themselves on raised platforms waiting for the arrival of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), while pilgrims poured into the packed sanctuary.

When the time of the president’s arrival drew near, Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) officers pushed worshippers away from the main incense burner to clear space for Ma’s entourage. As Ma approached the temple some pilgrims were still trying to break through the security cordon.

In a gesture of respect to Matsu, CIB officers took banners from worshippers and waved them around the incense burners for good luck before returning them. One officer collected incense sticks from pilgrims and stuck in the main incense burner. An overly zealous middle-aged woman dressed in red tried to do it herself but was dragged away screaming.

Ma entered the temple five hours before Matsu was to be brought out on her pilgrimage. The chaotic crowd rushed the wall of CIB officers amid shouts of “President Ma!” to try to get a glimpse of him or shake his hand. Ma caught the eye of one diminutive elderly worshipper holding a handful of incense sticks and clasped her hands.

The president then proceeded to the main altar with Wu and a handful of officials to pray at the statue of Matsu. In front of the main altar, Yen presented Ma with a white statue of Matsu and a large red envelope. After receiving the presents Ma gave a speech, half in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) and half in Mandarin, praising Jenn Lann Temple for raising the profile of Matsu.

Ma then asked the crowd if they knew how many Matsu worshippers there were in the world. “One million!” a man shouted. “You underestimate the power of Matsu!” exclaimed Ma, adding that there were more than 100 million Matsu worshippers in the world.

According to Wu, the best days for tourists to witness the pilgrimage are the first day, when Matsu is brought out of the temple, the fourth day, when she arrives in Singang, where many performances are held, and the final day, when village gangs have been known to fight their way to the front of the crowd to protect Matsu as she is returned to her resting place in Jenn Lann Temple.

Just walking for a night with Matsu through the back roads of central-west Taiwan can be a fascinating experience.

“Even in the middle of the night way out in the countryside you will see people set up a table and offer fruit and food to pray to Matsu,” Wu said.

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