Sanzhi 三芝 Parade of the Deities

Every year at Dragon Boat Festival time, Tamsui and Sanzhi hold massive parades involving hundreds of gods, deities, idols, lion dancers, horn-blowers, drummers, firecracker-lighters and participants from the temples all around.  On Friday it was the turn of Tamsui, yesterday was the turn of Sanzhi.  This is known as 大拜拜 (da bai-bai) ‘Big Worship’.  ‘Bai-bai’ specifically refers to traditional religious worship in the home or temple, involving offerings of incense and maybe food to the ancestors or deities.

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Here in Sanzhi, people have been preparing for days, setting up small altars in the doorways of their homes or business.  That’s where they stood yesterday, offering fruit and goodies to the passing deities, and with incense-sticks in hand, bowing and praying as the deities passed by in their vehicles and carriages. Incense sticks were exchanged with the people accompanying the deities for extra blessing.

And a bit bizarrely, the end of the procession was marked by a bright pink and white van with 2 scantily-clad pole-dancing girls performing on the top, followed by about 10 motorcycles with young men desperately trying to keep up and film at the same time.

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As the parade came to a temple, the deity vehicles lined up for presentation to the temple gods, first came the ear-splitting firecrackers, then they passed through.  Some had the firecrackers lit directly below the deity’s carriage, which the carriers then walked through. Some did performances in front of the temple, some even in bare-feet.  There were a huge number of participants, mainly young men, virtually all smoking, chewing betel nuts, and fueled by large amounts of Taiwan Beer.  And the watching crowds were very big and very diverse, from small babies to old ladies!

The parade spent all day in the surrounding villages and district visiting temples and homes.  By about 4:00 pm the parade arrived back in Sanzhi.  Firecrackers marked their arrival, plus horns and drums all going non-stop.  By then it was kind of raining, in fact we had showers all day, but it did not deter the participants.  After a tour around the town, the parade arrived at the main Matzu Temple in the centre of town.  One by one, the deities from the Matzu Temple were taken from their carriages and returned to their places in the temple, others did a short presentation and went on their way. Others performed and did a kind of show in front of the Matzu deity, which was also one of those in the parade.  All accompanied by firecrackers and huge noise.  And the pole-dancing girls came last, and performed to the gods and to the crowds.

This was it….

And to give you an idea of the earsplitting noise of the firecrackers, check out my short 21-second video, and note there’s a deity carriage moving around in the smoke:

As you can imagine, this parade and it’s associated festivities are not for the fainthearted. The noise and smoke can be overwhelming, and yet it’s very much a family affair. In the evening there was a festive atmosphere in Sanzhi with a special night market and pinball games for everyone to play, with candy floss and all sorts of yummy things to eat.

All culturally fascinating, very colourful and exciting, but spiritually very dark.  99% of Christians in Taiwan will not go anywhere near such a parade.  I only went because I wanted to take photos to share with you all ~ to show you what kind of religious and cultural traditions many Taiwanese follow. This is not a Disneyland-style parade of Mickey Mouse and fun characters from movies.  It’s a parade of deities from the temples, which many people worship and put their trust and hope in.   It’s roots are in Taoism, traditional Chinese religion.  Some of the deities are carried, some are pushed in carts and some are driven in vehicles.  Many people believe that the deities themselves control the movements of those carrying or pushing them.  Fueled by firecrackers, smoke, beer, betel nuts and shouts of encouragement from the crowd, the guys carrying the deities lurch back and forth, shaking and shouting – but that is all seen as a good sign, the deity is in control. Devils, demons, evil spirits and spiritual warfare much in evidence, and not to be taken lightly.  I prayed for God’s protection before I went out, and when I came back felt moved to read out loud one of the psalms about God’s victory over evil.

May God have mercy on the people of Sanzhi, and all those thousands who participated last night.  May the Light of Christ shine in their hearts and bring them true hope, joy and salvation through Christ.  Amen.

We have much work to do in sharing the Gospel, please pray for all the churches and all the outreach in this area.  And especially for Advent Church.  We have a new church center, and one of the purposes of building it is as a base for outreach up the northern coast of Taiwan, where churches are few but temples are many.  May God guide and lead us, to His glory.

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