Jin Luan Gong, a temple in Greater Kaohsiung’s Cieding District, finished building a ship that was used in a plague offering ceremony for the Wang Yeh plague gods on May 20. Excluding the mast, but including the area from the bottom of the ship to the hatch, the ship is 21.21m long, 4.24m wide, and 1.76m tall. The total amount spent on the ship exceeded NT$10 million, including money spent on items placed on it. The ship is the biggest Wang Yeh ship ever built in southern Taiwan.
The worship of Wang Yeh is quite prevalent in the Cieding area, and a ship, which is eventually burned, has to be built every time a plague offering ceremony is held to see the gods off. These ceremonies are usually held every 12 years at Jin Luan Gong, which was constructed over 300 years ago.
Kuo Chin-cheng, chairman of the temple’s plague offering committee, says last year the sea goddess Matsu expressed that a ceremony for Wang Yeh needed to be held, so the temple followed tradition and held a divination ceremony, hung up ceremonial lanterns, and enshrined a statue of Wang Yeh. The Wang Yeh ship’s keel is 6.24m long, 66cm wide, and 61cm thick. Su Chun-fa, a master Wang Yeh shipbuilder, was hired to build the ship.
After graduating from elementary school, the now 69-year-old Su became a wooden shipbuilder’s apprentice in Cieding’s Baishalun fishing harbor, but the number of fishing boats sharply decreased as ocean resources continue to dwindle, so at the age of 28 Su decided to learn how to build Wang Yeh ships with a master Wang Yeh shipbuilder. He has made a total of 80 Wang Yeh ships over the past 41 years.
Su says the size of a Wang Yeh ship depends on the length of the keel, but where are keels obtained and how big are they supposed to be? Su says whatever Matsu or Wang Yeh say goes, so in the past keels were traditionally selected by practitioners as they carried deities on palanquins to select the wood. Today, however, materials for building them are obtained directly from wood factories.
After half a year of detailed and meticulous carving, the huge Wang Yeh ship was finally able to leave the factory on May 20, and although it was raining heavily that day, worshippers still enthusiastically showed up in great numbers for the ceremony.
Hsueh Chao-hsuan, head of the temple’s department of general affairs, says that the large ship cost more than NT$5 million, but after adding 200 various items to the boat, including a TV, a refrigerator, and an ancient cannon, the overall cost exceeded NT$10 million. The ritual ceremony for seeing off the Wang Yeh gods is scheduled to be held on June 16.
Su says that Wang Yeh ships and wooden fishing boats are built in exactly the same way and that they are actually capable of sailing on water. This particular ship contains a Matsu floor, a Wang Yeh court, a prison below deck and separate toilets for men and women.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)