Burning of the Wangye Boats

This spectacular folk festival is celebrated in fishing settlements along the southwestern coast. The most extravagant celebrations are in Pingtung county, famously at the vibrant Donglong Temple, a center of folk faith in southern Taiwan.

Festivities last eight days and see tens of thousands in attendance with their cameras, especially on the first and the final days. Celebrations involve a plethora of rituals. These include beckoning of the gods by mediums, parading the boat through town to collect wicked spirits, and feasting the gods. In the wee hours of the last day, the vessel – ornately furnished and crewed by effigies – is moved to the beach. It is loaded with goods fit for a voyage and the deities are invited to board. Then just before dawn, it is set alight. The festival happens in October every three years, in the Years of the Bull, Dragon, Goat, and Dog. The next one is in 2018.

Wangye is not royalty or a sage named Wang, as the term might suggest. Rather it refers to any of a host of plague gods of over a hundred names. While ancient boat-burning rituals were specifically concerned with disease prevention, today’s practices seek general protection and good fortune.