If you are reading this before reading the first part HERE, then you might be at a slight loss as to what this festival is about. Do yourself a favor and go back and catch up before reading on.
The Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods is at its core a Taoist festival that focuses on nine emperor gods that are now celestial stars. On this, the 5th night of the festival, spiritual mediums skewer their cheeks with long sharp stainless steel poles. The poles look to be 4 to 4.5 meters (around 15 ft) in length.
I asked Philip, one of the festival organizers at the Two Boo Kong Temple, who are these mediums? He said they had been born for this as if it is a unique gifting.
As the long poles are lined up in readiness for the event, oranges are stuck on the end of each pole’s point. Partly to keep people from playing with them as well as to act as a type of disinfectant.
The mediums need to get ready for the piercing by allowing a spirit to enter their body. They sit and pray. Then as soon as another medium cracks a serpent shaped whip the group starts to convulse and the spirits enter their bodies. They take on different personalities, mostly of children or babies. These are obvious by the baby talk and pacifiers (or dummies) they start sucking on. Other turn into monkeys with whooping, and squealing.
They are then lead to a stool and very quickly but carefully the skewers are pushed through one side of their cheek. Here in Penang, they don’t seem to put anything other than the pole through their cheeks, unlike in Phuket where mediums push large objects through their cheeks.
The mediums then carefully rise and bow before the temple and it’s gods. Then slowly move to the front of the parade. This ritual is done nine times with each of the nine mediums.
The parade itself is unremarkable. It is like any other parade in the U.S or around the world. It is made up of everything from pom-pom dance teams to floats and dignitaries. The only difference between this parade and the Belton, Texas 4th of July parade, is Belton doesn’t have men with 15 ft steel poles running through their cheeks.
The parade does a huge loop and ends back at the temple where it started from. Those people who didn’t want to walk the many miles in the parade were left at the temple grounds with a live theatrical production to watch and plenty of food to eat.
The next big event happens on the 7th night: Fire Walking.
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