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Taiwan Culture: The Ghost Festival Part 2

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Previously, I talked about Taiwan culture and the heart of the Ghost Festival, which as the name implies, is intended for the spirits.

This festival in Keelung is particularly cherished because of the historical background of the city. In summary, the city was first invaded by the Chinese, then by the Spanish, by the Dutch, by the French and then by Japanese and Chinese Guomingdang (or Kuomintang) party representatives. The invasions were pursued with violence and deaths of all kinds. The fallen victims of these massacres varied widely: they were soldiers and civilians, mostly Chinese, European, Japanese, as well as the original inhabitants of Taiwan, that are now ethnic minorities.

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Taiwan Culture

The importance of the Ghost Festival in Keelung, then, is two-fold: not only does it honor the deaths of ancestors and spirits in China, Japan, Korea and other Asian countries, but it also pays tribute to the people who died during those bloody wars. Right along the harbor of Keelung, in fact, facing the east, is a French cemetery where a ceremony takes place every year for the fallen. The French Councillor even participates in the ceremony. Keelungers put all the usual food offerings on the main monument in honor of the French soldiers who lost their lives Keelung.

taiwan culture

Every year, there is a clan that has precedence over the others. Let me explain better. There are 15 official clans in Keelung, but in some clans there is more than one smaller clan, so that in total we can say there are more than 30 clans. Each clan has a surname (in Chinese), and members of these clans are united by having the same last name. Every year, it's the duty of a single clan to preside over the Ghost Festival celebration, starting with the first clan and followed by the other clans in rotating order. There are more than 15 Chinese clans, but they have a minor representation and so have been incorporated into the major 15 clans.

taiwan culture

Between public ceremonies which preside over each clan, there is a lighting ceremony at the Main altar (Zhupu altar) and a procession of basketball lanterns (doudeng) and paper lanterns. Each clan has its own private celebrations with family members and between people of the same clan for several days. At the same time, every company has its own "bye bye" ceremony.

Essentially, over a two-week period, all true believers are very busy managing ceremonies and religious manifestations of the Ghost Festival.

We can really say that this is the most important festivity in Keelung and a huge part of Taiwan culture and history, and it is even more important than the Chinese New Year. That's why it attracts hordes of onlookers and believers from every town and village near Keelung.

(More in the previous article)!

Precedentemente ho parlato del cuore del Ghost Festival, che come dice il nome, e' rivolto essenzialmente agli spiriti.

Questo festival a Keelung e' particolarmente sentito anche per via dei precedenti storici della citta'. Riassumendo, la citta' e' stata prima invasa dai cinesi, poi dagli spagnoli, dagli Olandesi e dai francesi e infine dai giapponesi e di nuovo dai rappresentanti del partito cinese del Guomingdang.

Le invasioni, come si sa, spesso non sono portate avanti con baci e abbracci ma con violenti scontri e morti di ogni tipo. I caduti, vittime di queste stragi, sono di ogni tipo e luogo: militari e civili, cinesi, europei, giapponesi e soprattutto gli abitanti originali di Taiwan, ora solo minoranze etniche.

Cultura Taiwanese

L'importanza del Ghost Festival a Keelong, quindi e' duplice: non solo celebrare le morti degli antenati e degli spiriti come accade in Cina, Giappone, Corea e altri paesi asiatici , ma anche celebrare le morti dei caduti durante quelle sanguinose guerre. Proprio lungo il porto di Keelung, infatti, verso la parte est, si trova ancora il cimitero francese, nel quale ogni anno viene celebrata la cerimonia in memoria dei caduti. Alla cerimonia partecipa anche il consigliere francese e tutti mettono le solite offerte di cibo sul monumento principale, proprio in onore dei soldati francesi morti a Keelung.

Ogni anno, ad ogni modo, c'e' un clan che ha la prevalenza sugli altri. Mi spiego meglio. I clan ufficiali a Keelung sono 15, ogni clan ha un cognome proprio (e coincide con esso, in cinese), quindi tutti i membri di questo "clan" sono uniti dal fatto di avere lo stesso cognome. Ma in qualche clan vengono rappresentati anche i clan minori, cosi' che i clan totali a Keelung sono all'incirca 30. Ogni anno e' il turno di un solo clan di presiedere per primo alle celebrazioni del Ghost Festival seguito dagli altri clan in ordine rotatorio.

Fra le cerimonie pubbliche a cui deve obbligatoriamente presiedere ogni clan ci sono l'accensione delle luci all'Altare Principale Main, la processione delle lanterne di legno (doudeng) e quella per le lanterne di carta. Ovviamente ogni clan ha anche le proprie cerimonie private con i familiari e fra gente dello stesso clan in diversi giorni. Allo stesso tempo ogni azienda ha il proprio "bye bye" aziendale.

Praticamente, almeno nel giro di due settimane tutti i veri credenti sono molto impegnati a presiedere alle cerimonie e alle manifestazioni religiose del Ghost Festival. Si puo' davvero dire che sia la festivita' piu' importante a Keelung e una buona parte della cultura e storia di Taiwan, anche piu' importante del Capodanno Cinese (Festival di Primavera). Ed e' per questo che attira masse di curiosi e credenti da ogni citta' e villaggio vicini.

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Follow SilviaBaggiani:
As sinologist and passionate of Chinese culture i like to learn about all the culture, especially the one of my specialization. I like to travel and after three years in China i decided to join the Keelung-residence program who let me know more about this city's places&culture. The ceremonies, the dedication of people for them, the traditional music, the hidden historical places showed me a new attractive world.

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