Celebrating Women as Protectors

Chinese woman dressed as historic figure

Mazu Festival - Mei Zhou Island, China

Click here to listen to Paola talk about this festival

This is an excerpt from the book Celebrating Women.

At seven the next morning, individuals and costumed pilgrim groups return, stopping every three steps on the temple's “Ladder to Heaven,” to prostrate themselves. 

Mazu's image has been moved into the open air and surrounded by offerings, flowers and gifts. People kneel to pray on the pillows in front her altar. Even tots barely old enough to sit alone are placed on the pillows to bow to the goddess.

Thousands stand on the ceremonial terrace, but the venturesome ones sit on the rock outcroppings or high in the trees. Girls and boys scramble to the top of the temple rooftops, and perch, one leg on either side of the peak. I have been given access to the highest floor of the bell tower: literally a bird's eye view.

A woman enters the drum tower and, using two long sticks whose ends are bound with red cloth, sounds a hanging gong that must be eight feet in diameter. It reverberates, perhaps for miles. The


offering ceremony has begun. Women costumed as ancient soldiers clear the terrace, which is carpeted in fuchsia.

Hundreds of dancers carrying streaming pennants parade up the steps, the men wearing robes of frosted gold, the women dressed in frosted pink. They use long feathers to create arches between them, seeming to swirl and float, integrate and atomize, cluster and serpentine in a graceful, sophisticated choreography.

Finally, women bearing trays of fruit and packages of noodles present these offerings to Mr. Gnag Jin Lin, the Chairman of the temple, who dedicates them to Mazu with incense and prayers.

The entire performance is so beautiful that sometimes I actually forget to take pictures.  I have never before attended a birthday party nearly as grand.

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