An exhibition on the history of Cihji Temple’s (慈濟宮) bajiajiang (八家將, Eight Generals) troupe opened in Chiayi City on Sunday, featuring ritual artifacts, photographs and never-before-seen scrolls depicting color schemes for dancers’ face paint.
The exhibition marks the centennial of the Chenyutang (振裕堂) troupe and more events are to be held next month, Chiayi Bajiajiang Cultural Association chairman Wang Yuan-hung (王沅鴻) said.
In Taiwanese folk religion, the bajiajiang are responsible for punishing the wicked, and bringing safety and good luck. Ritual dances involving the bajiajiang are an important part of Taiwan’s temple culture.
Photo: Wang Shan-yeng, Taipei Times
In the 1970s, when the nation’s economy was booming, having a good bajiajiang troupe was a way for temples to display the wealth and status of their communities, Wang said, adding that Chiayi County was the epicenter of the nationwide development.
Chenyutang has been particularly influential and many bajiajiang troupes that have the Mandarin character “chen” in their names are its offshoots, he said.
The association has researched and organized the troupe’s historically valuable artifacts with the help of a subsidy from the Chiayi City Cultural Affairs Bureau for public display, he added.
One of the most significant items on display are the scrolls used by the troupe to record the proper color schemes for the dancers’ face paint, Wang said, adding that the scrolls date to 1949.
The troupe’s first two generations of five master face painters did not enforce rigid paint schemes and favored utilizing colors that would exaggerate the facial features and lines of each dancer, he said.
It was the third generation master Yeh Hai (葉海) who first codified the face paint schemes by creating the scrolls and the troupe has been using his designs for all but one of the generals, Wang said.
Chen Chien-hung (陳建宏), the troupe’s face paint artist and association director, said the rituals surrounding face painting has changed.
Previously, a dancer had to take a ritual cleansing bath and shave their hair from the temples before a painter colored their face, Chen said.
However, today’s artists still use the traditional color scheme of white, black, red and blue, Chen added.
The exhibition also features ritual implements wielded by the bajiajiang, such as plaques of authority, shackles and banners.
Another exhibition is to open at the Chiayi City Cultural Affairs Bureau on Saturday next week, while a special procession of bajiajiang is to circle the temple on Nov. 17, the association said.
Additional reporting by CNA
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