In Taiwan’s various religious customs and rituals, women are traditionally not allowed to touch or get close to the sedan chairs that are used to carry gods. But in the ritual ceremony for welcoming the Wang Yeh gods, also known as the plague gods, at Wufang Village in Pingtung County’s Hsinyuan Township they have broken the gender taboo by allowing women to carry sedan chairs and religious items. Hsu Jung-huang, director of Hsinyuan’s Chengying Temple, says that the times and society are changing. Women can serve in the army, so of course they can be sedan carriers for the gods, he says.
Looking back at the month-long ceremonies for welcoming the Wang Yeh gods that recently ended in Pingtung’s Donggang, Liouciou and Nanjhou townships, only men were seen carrying the Wang Yeh sedan chairs and religious items, and every temple scrupulously reminded women about the traditional taboo of touching or getting close to sedan chairs or religious items.
But the group of sedan carriers for the recent Wang Yeh welcoming ceremony at Chengying Temple consisted almost entirely of elderly women and mothers.
Hsu says that with a population of only 2,000 people, practically the entire village is mobilized to help out with the ceremony, so almost all of the young men in the village take part in the large Songjiang battle formation troupe and help conduct traffic. Women, on the other hand, are usually responsible for serving as sedan carriers — a division of labor among the sexes that allows them to work together in welcoming the gods.
The temple worships mainly the Wang Yeh gods surnamed Chu, Chih, Yen and Tang as well as Kuo Hung-fu. Having women serve as sedan carriers initially caused some controversy and some people said it was entirely inappropriate, but Hsu believes that it is not a problem as long as a woman does not participate in the ceremony when she is menstruating, which has allowed the temple to overcome the sexist tradition. Everyone has gradually accepted this new way of thinking and the women sedan carriers have become a unique feature of Wufang Village’s ceremony.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)