Matsu Pilgrimages : A Mobile Goddess
At the 1st Special Exhibition Gallery
May 11 – November 15, 2011
March in Taiwan is the month when local people get excited about Matsu. Celebrations dedicated to the most preeminent folk deity are held in approximately 200 temples around the island. Either against the city’s hustle and bustle or on a generally secluded trail surrounded by paddies, you must often come across a long procession of people complete with the beat of drums and the clang of gongs. Larger-than-life divine figures stand out in the crowd, all sorts of banners flutter, and a sedan apparently reserved for a predominant deity takes the most important position in the rear. Thongs of disciples march on, to the accompaniment of seemingly endless crackle and smoke of firecrackers. The Matsu belief and customs were inscribed in 2009 on UNESCO's (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This annual carnival is now expected to draw more than 200,000 visitors from home and abroad to central Taiwan, and make visitors feel the soothing power of religious and witness the magnificence of this religious festival.
The National Museum of Natural Science has presented a HD panorama film about Matsu pilgrimages at the Environment Theater in early May, and now is hosting a grand art exhibition entitled “A Mobile Goddess”. It is an exhibition featuring an encounter of two processions originating from the Zhenlan Temple at Daja and the Gongtian Temple at Baishatun respectively. Taking center stage is a symbolic small temple, and performing troupes can be found on its front plaza. Put on display inside the small temple are most treasured artifacts selected from 11 well-known Matsu temples assisting with the exhibition. The artifacts used by the two performing troupes are provided by the aforementioned Matsu temples at Daja and Baishatun. All these display items come with explanatory texts that can help visitors learn more about how they are actually used in a pilgrimage. The displays should also shed light on how the Daja and Baishatun pilgrimages differ from each other.
Wooden Statue of Matsu
Palanquin for Carrying Matsu
Another highlight at the exhibition is an interactive program designed to help visitors grasp what the pilgrimages mean to the faithful. In addition to various interpretations by the disciples in their own voice, it features a number of artifacts on loan from them. In a special area dubbed “Appreciation of Matsu Performing Troupe Artifacts,” visitors can find artifacts divided into four categories that characterize a variety of such troupes: Flags Flying, Music Playing, Martial Deportment and Divine Motion. The “Open-Air Cinema” is meant to recreate the movie-viewing experience that many local temples have long provided on their front plaza. The rotational run of four films depicting the pilgrimages setting out from the Zhenlan Temple at Daja and the Gongtian Temple at Baishatun will take visitors on a virtual tour of all those array of sounds and colors.
“The event traces its origins back to the Qing dynasty (1636 – 1911),” according to NMNS associate researcher Huang Shu, the organizer of the exhibition, “Ceremonies are held at various Matsu temples throughout Taiwan, with many devotees undertaking journeys of several hundred kilometers,” said Huang at the exhibition opening reception. “From the annual inspection trip of Matsu worshipped all over the island, it is clear that Matsu is no longer a goddess of the sea for fishermen only. She has practically become a guardian angel here. Different generations and different walks of life all pray for her blessing at crucial moments in life. She is thought as an intimate deity who takes care of our daily lives like a mother. This multi-faceted cultural event has brought the world to central Taiwan. As a landmark in central Taiwan, the Museum is trying to lead our visitors to the essence of our folk culture through the religious pilgrimage and procession,” concluded he.
Whether you have experienced the Matsu International Festival in previous years, or have never participated before, come prepared to be amazed, intrigued, educated and entertained!
Matsu Pilgrimages: A Mobile Goddess is organized by the National Museum of Natural Science in cooperation with:
Journal of Natural and Cultural Society
Zhenlan Temple in Daja
Gongtian Temple in Baishatun
Lecheng Temple & Wanho Temple in Taichung
Tianhou Temple in Lugang
Gongfan Temple in Mailiao, Chaotian Temple in Beigang
Fongtian Temple in Singgang
Lu-er-men Tianhou Temple, Kaiji Tianhou Temple, Great Tianhou Temple in Tainan
Additional support has been provided by:
Institute of Ethnology
Tainan Cultural Foundation
Taiwan Matsu Fellowship
Baishatun Matsu Website
National Taiwan Museum
Agricultural Research Institute
The National Museum of Natural Science also gratefully acknowledges the support of many other people.