Ma Zu (spelling?) is one of the most popular gods worshiped in Taiwan, if not the most. Her birthday was this past Saturday and Taiwan celebrated as her followers passed her image from South to North on a week long journey. Behind my apartment is a temple dedicated to Ma Zu. The performances and rituals I saw Saturday night were raw and unrefined but inundated with enthusiasm. The dances got out of sync, at times the dancers themselves wore faces lost in confusion, music would lose time and become choppy at moments, but damn were these people into it.
All the performers were men, albeit Ma Zu is female. The only Women I saw carried the food offerings on plates or sang on a small stage, sometimes in underwear, that was drowned out by percussion heavy Chinese "temple" music. An interesting note of observation from my eyes. A lot of male participants and on lookers chewed beetle nut which looks similar to a green Acorn and is chewed for a particular sensation and makes your teeth a blood red color for an affect of fresh fist fight or an attempt at imitating an Andrew W.K. record cover. Some of the dancers seemed to be heavily tattooed, a stereotype of working class, gangster class, or maybe masculinity that carries the label "Tai Ke". Still a fairly vague term that escapes an exact definition for me, but don't worry I am working on that. The first dance group I saw starting getting really excited when they noticed I had tattoos and began showing off their friends Chuckie portrait (the horror movie series) on his left calf and Chuckie's bride on his right. Other participants were inviting and welcomed me to watch. A few would inform me of what I was watching and when I didn't understand my friend Wei Wei would translate. One participant asked me my opinion about how good the performance was and then told me I should go down to southern Taiwan next year because the celebration is bigger there.
I think the most perplexing aspect of all this was the musical dual. There was a huge bass drum on wheels that was larger than a grown man. Attached to the sides were two smaller drums each played by a college aged looking male whom pumped a pulse into the percussion heavy Chinese music. Behind this drum wagon followed various cymbal players. In stark contrast and competition with this was a stage performance of some kind of live music that filled in the gaps when the drum wagon lulled. They were losing the contest. The band had a drummer and various other unknown instruments with. I could not make out their sound because like I said, the stage was losing the competition. The singers were women who took turns singing songs. For some reason, one performed in her underwear or bikini. Which it was I'm not too sure. I was confused why she had this on. On the other hand, it could be obvious. Sex appeal is an m.o.
Overall, it was a display of something very Taiwanese. The dancers who were costumed as the 8 protectors of Ma Zu were pretty cool and dressed a little terrifying as they performed their dance that symbolized scouting for ghosts or people who may want to harm Ma. At least, I think that's what I was watching.