Bridge between Alid and People
────── Wei-ren You
Time: September 7, 2015
Interviewee: Wei-ren You
Interviewers and Guests: Guan-jhang Chen, Juliet Lin
Location: Shezi ang-î’s place
Compiled by Fei-hao Chen and Guan-jhang Chen Translated by Fred Lee
Childhood Memory about Spirits
I saw “friends” that are invisible to others since I had my memory. However, I was not aware that we were from different world/space. It was not until elementary school that I questioned their existence in the same space as mine. So, I talked to them from time to time. I think this communication make no different from that we have between people. However, this interaction was frightening just as people see a kid talking to the air and they would think that he had a mental problem. Ghosts actually are commonly seen. For me, people and ghosts are just like the two sides of a coin. It is the identity that makes us distinguished from each other. As our mind and thoughts change, what we see also changes. This is how the amazing spirits world is formed.
Interestingly enough, sometimes when I had contact with them, I felt uncomfortable. I would suffer from a continuous fever, vomit, and other flu-like syndromes unless I went to an exorcist. A lady exorcist said that I was “greeted and inquired” by domestic spirits. I, later, realized that domestic spirits are the ancestral spirits of a household. The most serious and urgent situation with a demoniac, I had known, was for him/her to undergo the exorcism rite seven times a week. But in my case, I used to see the Lady exorcist eight to nine times a week and the fee was two hundred New Taiwan dollars for each session. This made the lady feel embarrassed as she had got a lot of money from us. She then taught my family how to perform exorcism so that we could deal with the situation at home. Besides, I was a premature baby, born at twenty-eight weeks, and was kept in an incubator for nearly one month. That is why I got smaller veins over my body and I got injected on my head when required. For all the spending on medication, medical treatment and exorcism, I was raised with a large fortune.
When I was little, I used not to care too much about my interaction with spirits nearby. When I was in the second grade, my classmates kept me away because I talked and murmured to the air. By then, I started to be aware that I was different. Since I studied in the elementary school, my parents had worked in a factory in Anding, a township in Tainan. Opposite to the factory there was a grave yard. An old man lived there and worked as a “thóo-kong-á” who guarded the cemetery, watered grass field and did bone exhumation of the deceased for their descendants. He lived in a hut built of spared coffin boards and various kinds of materials that you may find in a cemetery.
In other people’s eyes, tombs are like buns lied in a graveyard, but in my eyes, when I step in a graveyard, the space turns into a scene in the movie. I would see tombs rise and become houses, high-rises, low-rises and ruins, etc. The greater a tomb is, the most likely it would turn into a mansion. If a tomb is humbly formed with a pile of earth and a gravestone, that may turn into an old-styled thóo-kah-tshu, or rammed-earth-structured house. Moreover, a gravestone is the front gate of a house to get in and out of the tomb. A graveyard to me is just like a busy market. I can see blurred shape of people walking without shadow on the ground in the hustle and bustle market, which is different from the ghosts in movies walking above three inches high from the ground.
During the summer vacation when I was in the third grade, there were two kids playing with me. We went cricket hunting and played with the monkey the graveyard keeper kept. We had a great time doing whatever for fun. We chatted but their voices sounded unclear. It sounded like the voice when we talked in front of a fan or that with white noise when we could not tune in the exact channel. This, however, did not affect our communication. I understood what they said to me and so did they. We had been playmates for nearly a month.
I felt unwell the week before school started. Exorcism did not seem to work this time. My family ended up taking me to Nan Kun Shen Dai Tian Temple. A medium in the temple told us that I was attached by two kid spirits. They had to find out where they came from so as to solve the problem I had. My mom thought of the big cemetery right away and rushed to the graveyard keeper. As soon as the keeper saw my mom being so anxious, he knew exactly what happened, and led her to the tomb of the two kids. The twin brothers were drowned accidentally. Children’s tombs used to be finished randomly, sometimes they would not get a proper tomb and the bodies would just be buried with the cover of a straw mat. Since no one attended to their tombs, they became stray ghosts. The two kids did not mean to harm me, they just wanted others to know that they needed some food via me. Following Lord Kun Shen’s instructions, I recovered.
I have learned from this experience that what I am used to see does not belong to this world. I could sometimes be confused their world with ours because I was born with Yin Yang Yan, or the Third Eye. My parents wanted me to live like other ordinary kids, so they asked the Wang Yeh (Royal Lord) from Nan Kun Shen to close the Eye. However, three years later, when I went fishing with my classmate and his father at the seashore at Chigu, I slipped and got hit on the head. That moment was just like being hit by lightning. Suddenly, I could feel that it became hustle and bustle again around me. When I came to myself, I regained the Third Eye. However, I saw fewer spirits, most of whom were fate-bound with me. For those who have no bound with me, I could not see them, unless with the help of a medium.
I remembered when I was little, I used to burn outfits printed on supermarket flyers to wandering souls, so that they would get those outfits in their world. The funniest thing was that if vegetables and fruits were printed on the other side of the flyer, the patterns of vegetables and fruits would also shown on the back of the outfits they wear. Even so, they were happy about having them. I went to the house of a friend, whose family managed a shrine. They told me the offerings of items on flyers were not durable, and it would be better to burn them clothes with scripts and joss paper when I could afford them.
My First Encounter with Alid
I met Shen-han Wu at the kuwa (shrine) at Pi-á-kha when I was in junior high school. He is from Madou and ran a joss paper store. I went to see him a lot. When I was recovering from the slip in the second semester of the first year in high school, he told me that those spirits I could see were fate-bound with me. When I was in the second year in high school and before Alid made her appearance to me, he said that I had fully retrieved my ability so I should make use of it properly. Then I got the opportunity to know more about the kuwa at Pi-á-kha. Before I met Wu, I had little knowledge about the kuwa and just vaguely knew about its worship of the Great Ancestors.
I remembered that I dared not step in the She-tzu kuwa, because it used to be spooky and frigid. There was a pig head hung on the left-hand side just like the pig skull we have now, but the difference is that it was black and stinky back then. The head had always hung there in the kuwa since it was established. When Wu came and noticed the worn-out kuwa, he enquired and got Alid’s permission to burn the pig head to ashes and to renovate the kuwa to the scale we see today. When I was little, I saw five earthen jars sitting under the table, I mistook them for cinerary urns and opened one of them out of curiosity only to find it empty. At that moment, I heard laughter of a woman and then I realized that the jars were actually utensils for a rite, and it was probably Alid’s laughter.
My family also worships Alid. We install a shrine high on the wall for worshiping other gods and ancestors, while the altar for Alid is set on the ground on the left-hand side (the Dragon side). A bowl of water, some betel nuts and a bottle of rice wine are rested on bricks to make the altar along with a bewitched bamboo placed against the wall. There should always be some water inside the bowl, so we refill constantly. On the first and the fifteenth day of each lunar month, we have to replace the water and the betel nuts. We used to call Alid “nóo kun” which means the Great Ancestors or the Great Female Ancestors. On Alid’s birthday (March 29 and June 16 by lunar calendar), we prepare sticky rice and other offerings on banana leaves to worship Alid. We light cigarettes instead of incense sticks and do not burn joss paper. I did not know whom I worshiped but just crouched and copied what other family members did. Wu told me that it was Alid that we worshiped. The elders did not know exactly how the rite was performed, all they knew was that this rite had been passed down for generations, and that they worshiped the Great Female Ancestors. They would buy a pack of betel nuts with two of which offered at the home altar while the others offered at the kuwa. It is said that Alid live in the water (representing the outright naturalness), so we have never used mineral water or tap water for offering, we have to use well water. That is why so far my family has never used tap water but water from an ancient well at home.
I had been learning how to perform the rite of worshiping Alid since I met Wu. Changing green is to replace bonesets (eupatorium chinensis) and banana leaves on the first and the fifteenth day of each lunar month. Besides, there is a standard procedure to prepare the pig head: you cook it, get rid of the meat, and wash the skull with water from rice washing. On March 29, 2005 when the eighty-year-old ang-î (shaman), Chao-shun Lin, was hosting the festival, I suddenly walked in with special steps. When it came to the pig checking and accepting ritual, I followed his steps and performed the ritual with him unconsciously. My family and the ang-î then realized that I was the one chosen by Alid.
The next day after offering a pig head at the kuwa, the ang-î made me get the processed pig skull at Aunt Sung-ching’s place. My memory went blank after I arrived. People there said, as soon as I got the skull, I started to sing the ritual songs. While I was singing, I picked up a red line to tie the upper and lower jaws of the pig skull together in the traditional way, and finished all the required procedures performed on the pig skull on the spot. For what had happened to me during this festival, Wu came to talk to the ang-î and knew that Alid wanted me to be her godson and that Alid would pave the way for me. Therefore, I was on my way to become an ang-î.
My job is to communicate with Alid. Interestingly, as long as I am possessed by Alid and with betel nuts and rice wine in my hands, I could chant incantation in the Siraya language, but whenever I come to myself, I can only say rice, wine and betel nuts in the language. When possessed, I submit myself to Alid, so I remember nothing about what happens in a ceremony. However, at the birthday ceremony this year, I requested Alid to keep me conscious so that I would know what happened at the kuwa. So, I had some memory about the ceremony this year even though I was possessed.
The Buried Siraya Household Religion
Due to the Japanization movement, lots of traditional religions were prohibited. Worshiping gods or ancestral spirits was forbidden. Lots of “a-lī-kan-á”—bottles used to worship Alid—including the one in the kuwa at Toushe, were put away secretly. When my dad was little, he had never seen the two family a-lī-kan-á—one is yellow and the other is white. What he could recall is the bowl put on the home altar. Right before my grandfather passed away, he asked me to get the a-lī-kan-á—brought to the family by my great grandmother. As I opened the suitcase hidden under his bed, I saw the two a-lī-kan-á wrapped with old Japanese newspaper. These bottles had not been worshiped for a long time. In the old days, the elders did not want to be called the “plain indigenous” neither did they want to give up the tradition, so they used bowls to replace the bottles. These two a-lī-kan-á were left by my great grandmother, Wu-yu Yu, who was the female ang-î that could cast spells on crops. In her family of origin in Huanhu, Danei district, people still worship Alid. Traditionally, the bottles used to worship Alid are entrusted to the daughter of a family, and they are with her wherever she goes. Thanks to my great grandmother who brought these two bottles and left them to us, we are the only family in Shezi worshipping a-lī-kan-á at home.
Five a-lī-kan-á form one set, and they are called the five sisters. The set can usually be seen in the kuwa, but only two of them, the Sheshe and Dujia bottles, are commonly seen in a Siraya household. There are only a few households set a-lī-kan-á on their offering table. On special occasions, we “replace green” for Alid. That is, we replace the plants in the jars or bottles with new ones, but the plants can vary from tribe to tribe. Banana leaves and bonesets (eupatorium chinensis) are commonly used, but we use bachelor’s button and osmanthus on Alid’s birthday. In Shezi we grow lots of silver grass, so it is predominantly used; leaves of saccharum officinarum are used in the Kabuasua tribe, and Taiwan wampee is used in the tribe of Liuzhong River. All these plants are characterized with divinity and their medical use. It is said that Alid always has a bouquet of bonesets in hand. For the Han people, the a-lī-kan-á is like the statue of a god, but the truth is we do not worship the bottle, it is the water and the outright naturalness it represents that we worship.
On the fourteenth day of the tenth lunar month, 2005, the senior ang-î died at eleven o’clock at night; meanwhile, I was officially promoted to an ang-î after a ceremony. People said that a light from the late ang-î’s place came to me. Alid chooses her own successor, so a new ang-î would be tested, but I just cannot tell what I had been tested on. Amazingly, I knew what task or mission I would be assigned by participation and involvement. Later in 2006, I asked the Siraya cultural choir in Toushe to help with our song-singing and the pig sacrificial ritual. Then it gradually develops to what we see in the festival now.
The procedure of the festival nowadays differs from that in the past and that of conventional Siraya Night Festival. I discussed with Alid on making the festival a two-day event starting with worshiping heavenly gods and checking on the choir’s performance. Then from the pig sacrificial ritual, we followed the conventional procedure. That was when the festival became more organized and ceremony-ish. We have had the festival for a long time, however, there has not been a fixed schedule for all the rituals. People used to leave when they finished worshiping. We did not chant the traditional songs, neither did we offer pigs as sacrifices at that time, but we had puppet shows instead. In the festival, the late ang-î and the one from Toushe directly touched the incense sticks with their hands or body parts. Now the ang-î from Toushe plays the role of a soldier whereas I play that of a scholar. I always have five incense sticks and put them out with hands. This is how the festival goes nowadays.
After undergoing the colonization of different ethnic groups, the Siraya culture almost vanishes in Taiwan. We hope to engage in its revitalization by launching cultural activities so that we Siraya people can identify ourselves with our culture.