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Wanfu Temple's Wang Ye Boat Festival Extravaganza

Wanfu Temple's Wang Ye Boat Festival Extravaganza

◎Text (English & Chinese) by Hou Ya-ting

 

 

 Wang Ye boat festivals, which originated in southeastern China, are the most significant religious tradition along Taiwan's coast. Brought over by Chinese immigrants, Wang Ye (sometimes called “royal lords”) rituals are today practiced in Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam, as well as in Taiwan.

 Taiwan has preserved some complete Wang Ye ceremonies with notable local features. One such tradition is connected to Wanfu Temple in Baishalun, part of Kaohsiung's Cieding District. This January, Wanfu Temple held its Sending Off Wang Ye rite, when the temple's Wang Ye deities undertook a ritual patrol on behalf of the Jade Emperor. This was followed by the spectacular burning of a purpose-built Wang Ye “King Boat..

 It had been 18 years ago since Wanfu Temple's previous Wang Ye Boat Festival, so many of those attending felt privileged to witness such a grand religious ceremony reflecting deeply-embedded local culture.

 Built in 1877, Wanfu Temple's main deities are five Wang Ye lords, together known as the Wufuqiansui. Each lord has a different family name. Mr. Chen Jia-chuan, chairperson of the temple's management committee, said that holding the festival was a decision made by the Wang Ye lords themselves. In 2019, a worshiper at the temple was casting kidney-shaped divination blocks, and the blocks landed upright, which so rarely happens. It was interpreted as a miracle.

 This event prompted the management committee to themselves cast divination blocks. By doing so, they received confirmation that the lords insisted on a Wang Ye Boat Festival.

 The festival's welcoming of gods who ritually patrol their realms while vanquishing evil on behalf of the Jade Emperor is seen as a metaphor for the authority of inspectors or imperial envoys who long ago patrolled real-world realms on behalf of the emperor.

 Every aspect of a Wang Ye Boat Festival is determined by casting divination blocks to consult the lords. Wanfu Temple then appointed Mr. Guo Yan-shan, a local resident with more than 40 years of shipbuilding experience, to construct the King Boat. It was the third-largest such ritual vessel in Taiwan, being 18.6m long, 4.5m wide, and 5.2m high. Mr. Chen Ming-ci, a widely recognized artisan, was asked to paint the boat.

 The King Boat was presented to the public on the occasion of the eye-dotting ceremony on December 20, 2020. The eye-dotting was performed by Kaohsiung Mayor Mr. Chen Chi-mai and other distinguished guests.

 Afterward, the pilgrimage got underway, accompanied by Wanfu Temple's festival parade troupes, including battle arrays and music or dance performers. Mr. Chen Jia-chuan pointed out that the area of Baishalun is a modest 2.06km², yet such was local residents' devotion that they formed more than 30 festival parade troupes. The festival is an important element in local cultural identity and enhances social cohesion.

 The sending off of the Wang Ye and the burning of the King Boat on January 17 marked the climax of the Wang Ye Boat Festival. That day, at six o'clock in the morning, male worshippers began dragging the boat from the courtyard of Wanfu Temple toward Cieding's beach. A fire truck sprayed water in front of the vessel, symbolically clearing the waterway for the Wang Ye lords.

 When the King Boat arrived at the beach, temple staff began piling daily necessities beneath it. The ritual burning of the boat that followed signified the Wang Ye lords conveying of residents' wishes and prayers to the Jade Emperor's palace, while at the same time expelling diseases and malevolence.