Sunday Brunch

Sunday Brunch: Chinese Seafaring Goddess Mazu turns 1,055

A statue of Mazu at Matsu Park, Kinmen County, Republic of China (Taiwan). (Image Credit: Wikicommons)

This week’s Sunday Brunch reflects upon the Chinese diety for the large seafaring communities of the South China Sea and Taiwan Straight, Mazu. This past Monday, May 11th, Mazu celebrated her 1,055 birthday. Guest contributor Bryce Barros was in Taipei City, and brings you this maritime cultural phenomenon first hand.

By Bryce C. Barros Guest Contributor

This past Monday, May 11th, many in the southern Chinese Provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Hainan, Hong Kong, Macau and Zhejiang, in addition to overseas Chinese communities in Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asia, celebrated the birthday of the Chinese patron goddess Mazu.  Mazu, who’s name literally translates as the “Mother Ancestor (媽祖)” is the patron goddess that protects seafarers, fishermen, and sailors.  This closely ties her with the Chinese in southern China and throughout Southeast Asia because the ancestors of many Chinese who were seafarers, fishermen and sailors of the Pacific Ocean.

Like many Chinese Daoist gods and goddesses, Mazu was a real person.  She was born as Lin Mo-Niang (林默娘) to a family of fishermen.  She is believed to have been born in the year 960 on Meizhou Island, Putian County, Fujian Province and to have died in the year 987.  Throughout her life she became widely known for her excellent swimming abilities, and, according to legend, would stand on the coast wearing red garments to guide vessels back to port even in dangerous weather.

Chenlen Temple, Taiwan, dedicated to the goddess Mazu. (Image Credit: Wikicommons)

Legend states further that during a devastating storm, her fishermen brothers and father were at sea.  Her family feared for the worst so, Lin Mo-Niang began to pray.  After falling under a deep trance of prayer, she began to dream of her brothers and father.  Soon her mother tried to wake her up, causing her to drop one of her brothers and leading to his drowning.  The next day the father and some of her brothers returned home, stating that one of her brothers had drowned just as she dreamt.  This legend gave her reverence amongst her fellow Fujianese and soon spread throughout the southern coast provinces of China.

The vast majority of Taiwanese are descended from seafaring Fujianese like Mazu’s brothers and father.  With significant immigration from Fujian Province to Taiwan taking place in the 1600s, Mazu’s place within Chinese seafarers was cemented.  Wherever these Fujianese settlers made home, temples, pagodas and shrines to Mazu followed.  The Taiwan Strait remains a very volatile body of water and many Taiwanese connect to Mazu’s legend understanding their ancestors faced similar plights crossing the Strait.

Although Mazu’s birthday is celebrated by Chinese Buddhists and Taoists throughout the world, she remains most sacred in Taiwan.  Each year, beginning weeks before her birthday, many Taiwanese hold celebrations day and night welcoming Mazu’s presence into their homes.  Some even venture on pilgrimages all over the island to reach many of the temples where she’s worshiped.  Celebrations for Mazu’s Birthday include large processions where a statue of Mazu is carried on a palanquin while she’s flanked by devote worshipers, fireworks, loud traditional Chinese and electronic music, all to encourage her to come out and make her presence known in the homes of locals.  Happy birthday Mother Ancestor!

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