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When we arrived in Sigang Township, we immediately found ourselves immersed in one of the most significant and unusual festivals to be found in Taiwan and the religious world. The Sigang Festival is a weeklong festival held once every three years. Day after day, procession after procession passed by our front door. People started streaming in at about 10 am each day and streamed out of town until about 4 am each night. Each group walking past our door, blared traditional, flute and percussion instruments, signaling the arrival of the visiting Taoist deity they were carrying. Once in awhile, firecrackers would be lit to scare away demons along the path, and in the evenings, fireworks were launched into the sky.
Each group was a celebration of ceremonial color and design, signifying which temple they were from. Each group carried a deity within a traditional cart decorated in its own unique ornate style. There were more than 90 communities around Southern Taiwan bringing their deities and temple worshippers to pay homage to the deity within the famous Cing-an Temple in the middle of Sigang Township. Day after day, the crowds grew, until they peaked during the weekend of May 9th and 10th.
The Cing-an (pronounced Ching-ahn’) Temple, which was first built during the Zheng Cheng-Gong Era of Ming Dynasty (17th Century), was the center of activity during the festival. Day after day, for a week, the processions followed various paths into town, ultimately leading to the Cing-an Temple. Within the temple, people congregated, to pay respects to the Taoist deities with incense and prayer. The Taiwanese also purchase “ghost money” to burn at the temple, as a way to pay respects to their deceased relatives. Within the temple was built a royal ship, a beautifully painted, handmade craft, which would ultimately carry the deity back to the heavens. People prayed to the ship, which would take their prayers to their deceased loved ones, throughout the week. On Monday, May 11, 2009, the festival would come to a climactic end, as the Royal Ship would be brought to a field to be ceremoniously sent off in a blaze of glory.
This entire festival has become a national treasure of Taiwan, as it represents over a thousand years of culture and history. There are not many festivals left that capture the tradition as the Sigang Festival does. As a result, it has become a widely publicized tourist attraction that is well-covered by the media in Taiwan. Fortunately, the festival has recently attracted government funding to expand as a tourist attraction and to help preserve its traditions for generations to come.