Bombing Master Handan used to be only part of a divine parade to celebrate the Lantern Festival, but it became so popular that for the past 60 years, it has been held separately and has become a signature event of the festival in Taitung, he said.
Lee also talked about the origin of the name Handan. He said that the most common way to write the two-character word is handan, with han (寒) meaning “cold” and dan (單) meaning “single,” but his research shows that the second character should be written as dan (丹) meaning “heart” — in short, “one who often feels cold at heart,” Lee said.
However, since most people — including government authorities promoting the event — have chosen the former, “we just go along with it,” he said.
Huang Chao-liang (黃朝亮), a native of Taitung and a filmmaker who is planning to make a movie about bombing Handan, cited four reasons why people take on the role of Handan.
Some want Master Handan to grant them fortune or wealth, while others do it as a way to expiate their guilt or to return a favor that Master Handan has granted them,” Huang said.
“The tradition was brought by people who migrated from the west to Taitung generations ago, but it has disappeared in the western part of the country, while we have kept it alive here,” he said.
The tradition has also attracted foreign residents, such as Mark Jackson from South Africa who has lived in Taiwan for 10 years and Till Di Luniere from Germany who acted as Master Handan in a bombing session reserved for foreigners yesterday.
Both said they were excited to be able to take part in an important local cultural tradition.
A total of 120 foreign exchange student from more than 30 countries served as firecracker throwers during the special session.
“I was very nervous at the beginning, I was so afraid that I might burn my hair or hurt the guy [acting as Master Handan],” said Stephanie Hand, an exchange student from the US. “But after it’s over, I feel so excited now.”
Vinicius Azevedo from Brazil said he felt neither afraid nor nervous.
“It’s just fun, exciting, and I am very happy,” he said.