Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mysterious and mighty street dancers

The national Ba Jia Jiang and Guan Jiang Shou competition has been held in Ci Feng Gong (39, Zhong Shan Rd, Pingtung City, a 5 minutes walking distance from the Pingtung train station) for 6 years in a row. I didn't know the difference between Ba Jia Jiang and Guan Jiang Shou so I used to ignore the term " Guan Jiang Shou" and unified the two as Ba Jia Jiang, unitl now.

Ba Jia Jiang 八家將
You can see these dancers in almost every temple ceremony in Taiwan. There are at least 5 theories for the origination of these dancers. Despite the diversity of origination theories, many people are convinced that these dancers are subordinates of Wu Fu Da Di (the five deities of plague whose job is to evict plagues from the living); leading the way for their master on an inspection tour. The number of the group varies from 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16 up to 32. Traditionally, there are eight of them doing their special dance in folk activities, usually involving some deities' birthday.

Generals Gan, Liu, Fan and Xie, the main characters in this eight-person group, whose responsitilities are executing arrests and punishments. General Gan's makeup has an octupus-shaped eye and general Liu has red and black dual-colors painted on his face. Gan and Liu are responsible for executing punishments. General Fan, dresses in black with his face painted in black and eyes in white; general Xie, on the contrary, dresses in white with a black bat symbol painted on his white face, and has a long tongue sticking out. Arrestting is their job. The other 4 characters are seasonal deities, spring, summer, autumn, and winter having dragon, bird, tiger and turtle symbols painted on their faces respectively. Their responsibilities in the group are investigation and inquiry.

A team of 13 is a better number to organize such a performance. It starts when the deity gives a direct order to a subordinate and then this order is passed on to general Fan and Xie by a messenger. General Fan and Xie arrest and hand over the criminals to general Gan and Liu for punishment. After that, 4 seasonal deities start their investigation then a clerk files the record and a guard puts the criminals in custody. Once the team has their makeup done, they are not allowed to eat meat, and should project an air of dignity. Moreover, when the performance has started, it is forbidden to cut through the group, especially for women.

Nowadays, it is difficult to distinguish each individual from their costume, makeup, and dancing. The meaning of this unique religious ritual has been distorted and varies from group to group.

Guan Jiang Shou 官將首
Literally, Guan Jiang Shou means chief of senior officers. There are 4 major theories about the origination of the characters in Guan Jiang Shou and they all end up to one legend: Guan Jiang Shou are subordinates of Ksitigarbha (Di Cang Wang), the god of hell, they were 2 demons subdued by Ksitigarbha and have become his guards. The 2 generals can see through good and evil qualities in people, general Zeng (增) has the power of giving extra lifespan to good people and general Sun (損) can take away lifespan of bad guys. They are the chief of senior officers leading the way and casting away any obstacles for their master on an inspection tour.

To make the dance better looking, general Zeng was duplicated and a team of 3 is the most common composition of Guan Jian Shou. The signatures of Guan Jiang Shou are long, sharp, protruding teeth, thick and long eyebrows and extravagant capes. The facial paintings are red and green basis, white lines creating a fire pattern with their forehead, nose and chin gilded. There are 2 styles you can find: 2 general Zeng are painted red (sometime, one of them is painted blue) standing on the 2 sides of the group holding handcuffs and tablets of fire and general Sun is painted green standing in the middle holding a trident and a flag of order. The second version is that general Zeng is painted green standing in the middle of the group holding a trident and a flag of order while the duplicated general Zeng is painted red standing on the right side of the group holding a tablet of fire and handcuffs and general Sun (painted red) on the left holding a tiger tablet and handcuffs.

The Guan Jiang Shou dance is more of a marshall type style compare to Ba Jia Jiang, which is softer. A signature difference can be found in the facial expressions of the dancers with the Guan Jiang Shou making fierce and angry poses.


Fili said...


Absolutely love those videos. Wish I could be there.

Lief said...

Gorgeous photos, interesting text.