Tsai Pojie, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Mazu Procession (2014) is a documentary directed by the popular Taiwanese entertainer Richie Ren (Ren Xianqi), a native of Changhua County’s Tianzhong. Returning to Taiwan after a long absence, Ren planned for two years before filming the famous “Mazu Procession,” a nine-day pilgrimage from the Dajia Jenn Lann Temple in Taichung’s Dajia District to the Beigang Mazu Temple in Yunlin County. The director stayed with the procession the entire way – sometimes on foot, sometimes on bicycle – his camera recording the colorful ritual.
The goddess Mazu’s birthday falls on the third day of the third lunar month. In the spring of each year celebrations take place all over Taiwan, such as those at Baishatun Gong Tian Temple in Miaoli County’s Tongxiao Township, Beigang Chao-Tian Temple in Yunlin County’s Beigang Township, and the “Mazu Coastal Patrol,” an activity sponsored by the Penghu Mazu Temple in Penghu County. Grandest of all, though, is the Dajia Jenn Lann Temple Mazu pilgrimage. The “procession” is an “inspection tour,” whereby believers in various areas “invite” the goddess to visit their local temples, burning joss sticks in her honor. Every year thousands of adherents join in the pilgrimage, countless other devotees providing food and resting places for those on the march. Thus, in addition to celebrating the goddess Mazu, the festivities also promote positive human interaction.
From the 1970s onward, the Dajia Mazu celebration has gradually increased in scale and grandeur, the numbers of participants climbing each year. Foreign media have likened the procession to the Hajj, Muslims’ annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and the annual purification rite in India’s Ganges River attended by tens of thousands of Hindu believers. Traversing the central Taiwan region – Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin, and Chiayi – the Mazu procession is the island’s largest annual religious celebration. Although the documentary is named for Mazu, it doesn’t focus on the goddess; rather, the procession serves as setting, the film a factual record of the pilgrims, as well as people and scenery along the route.
Early in the film Richie Ren says, “The Mazu procession is both familiar and strange; it seems to be very close to me, when in fact I’ve never taken part in it,” a sentiment shared by many Taiwanese. Actually, the ritual is quite complex. Not only does each segment of the pilgrimage bear religious significance, but temples’ historical animosities and the complicated relationship between local elements of law-abiding society and the criminal underworld play a part as well. And even though the pilgrims reverently follow the goddess’ palanquin on its long journey, they aren’t necessarily aware of all of the rite’s details. Nevertheless, in Mazu Procession viewers actually see the beneficent values these upright, sincere, and affectionate worshippers adhere to, beliefs that cannot be rationally analyzed.
“Why take part in the procession?” Richie Ren asks pilgrim after pilgrim. Although there isn’t a single correct answer to the question, when the camera pans over the crowds – a line of believers crawling under the goddess’s palanquin (a rite known in Taiwanese as lîng-kiō-kak); A-Yi, an engineer who represents his father in the pilgrimage because the older man, a longtime participant, is now unable to join in; an embroidered-flag team comprised of female worshippers; elderly folk who joyously offer food and drink to the pilgrims; grateful procession supporters – viewers will perhaps realize that what’s truly moving is the uncomplaining humility of these supplicants as they pray for peace and prosperity for the people of Taiwan.
Film Mazu Procession Trailer (Source: Activator Marketing Company)
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