9 Emperor Gods Festival – Pt 2

The medium must now walk the long distance of the parade route.

The medium must now walk the long distance of the parade route.

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.

  • A guest performers from Taiwan.
  • Guest performers rest before the show starts.
  • Prayers are offered at the temple alter.
  • A dragon sculpture and fountain at the Tow Boo Kong Temple.
  • Prayer are offered non-stop throughout the night.

 

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 begin to shake after the serpent whip is cracked.
  • Then one by one they start to get up and move and sway.
  • They start to squawk like monkeys or talk like babies.
  • They start to squawk like monkeys or talk like babies.

 

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.

The scars from the piercing are real and last a lifetime.

The scars from the piercing are real and last a lifetime.

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.

9_emperor_gods-10-05-07-07-53

Some of the mediums had their left cheek pierced, others their right.

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.

  • Oranges are uses to both protect the public from the pear tips as well as a way to disinfect the spear.
  • The orange is removed and the spear is pass down to the men who will be placing it through the medium's cheek.
  • A medium himself, this man hold one of the younger men as he get ready to have the spear placed through his cheek.
  • The right spot is carefully found.
  • The sharp spear brought carefully up to the correct spot.
  • Then the spear is pushed through to the middle.
  • Once completed...
  • the medium rises...
  • bows to the temple and then leaves to join the parade.

 

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.

  • As if it were obligatory, the parade like so many others around the world has it's own pom-pom team.
  • Floats with local dignitaries and clubs made up the parade.
  • The mediums with their spears through their cheeks walked the long route of the parade with help.
  • Every so often a medium would stand on a stool and encourage the crowd to cheer.
  • Every so often a medium would stand on a stool and encourage the crowd to cheer.
  • The parade route was long and slow. The mediums needed to rest frequently.

 

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.

About Matt Brandon

Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Matt’s images have been used by business and organizations around the globe. Matt also on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer.

In 2013 Matt founded the On Field Media Project to train the staff of non-profits to use appropriate technology to produce timely as well as quality images.

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