Following a public outcry and condemnations by activists this week, officials at a temple in Greater Tainan yesterday made a public apology for the temple’s ritual of stuffing live birds into sealed statues of deities.
The ritual took place at Kaisianjhen Temple (開仙真宮) in Greater Tainan’s Sigang District (西港), in effect making the birds sacrificial offerings, for the consecration and empowerment of statues of deity the Baosheng Emperor (保生大帝), the god of medicine.
Cheng Teng-feng (鄭登峰), head of Kaisianjhen Temple’s management committee, said that following the public outcry, the committee convened a meeting on Tuesday night and decided to make a public apology.
The practice came to light after someone posted a video online showing the ceremony.
In the video a temple official grabs a white Java sparrow from a bird cage and stuffs it into a round hole in the back of a wooden statue of the Baosheng Emperor. The opening is then sealed up and the bird left inside to die.
“This ritual has been practiced for several centuries. It came from a divine mandate by the gods. It is not a deliberate act to abuse animals,” Cheng said. “We will respect the adjudication by the Greater Tainan Animal Health Inspection and Protection Office.”
In the future we shall seek the guidance of deities and will respect the views of the public. Times have changed and we shall endeavor to make appropriate adjustments,” he said.
Greater Tainan Animal Health Inspection and Protection Office deputy director Wu Ming-pin (吳名彬) said the office would collaborate with other agencies and talk to all local temples to end the practice of stuffing live animals inside statues, leaving the creatures to die by suffocation or starvation.
Wu added that his office is now investigating whether the temple’s action violated Article 6 of the Animal Protection Act (動物保護法), which prohibits the maltreatment and abuse of animals.
When the video was posted on the Web, many netizens were in uproar, with some calling it a cruel, inhumane practice that should be stopped and calling for the lives of the unfortunate birds to be saved.
Wild Bird Society of Tainan secretary-general Kuo Tung-hui (郭東輝) said stuffing birds inside statues of deities by temples, for “illlumination” and to imbue “magical power,” is nothing but superstition.
Hsieh Chu-yi (謝主義), a master carver of statues of deities in Greater Tainan, said stuffing animals inside as “treasures” to imbue divine power had long been practiced at some temples as part of traditional worship.
Hsieh said when the statues of deities are encased in gold foil, certain deities will instruct a spirit-possessed medium (乩童) to place “treasures” inside them. Most of the time, the “treasures” are hornets, but other creatures, such as snakes and centipedes, are also used as they represent the animal embodiment of certain deities.
“As well as the Java sparrow, some temples use the yellow warbler and the crested minah bird for this purpose,” Hsieh said.