Tag Archives: Taiwan

Taiwanese Wedding Tradition

Background

The informant said that she learned Taiwanese wedding traditions from her grandparents and as a part of daily life by going to weddings. She emphasized that it is very important to her that she learns these traditions and keeps them up, even though some of them conflict with her own religious beliefs, because they are part of her cultural heritage. She said that it makes her sad when she sees Taiwanese-Americans who do not know or practice any Taiwanese traditions, because they are missing out on something that is a part of who they are and helps to define them.

Text

Usually, uh, traditional weddings, there will be like, um, multiple different.. like.. stages. So, usually the first– like, after, um, you engage, you have to meet each other’s parents. Like, you have to dress formally, like, usually traditional, uh, Taiwanese dresses. And girls, uh, the wife will make tea for the parents of, um, the husband’s side. So, making tea is a sort of respect, and to show that you have the ability to cook and stuff. So, you make tea, and you kneel down and you serve them the tea. For, um, the husband’s side parents. And, uh, if they accept it, it means that, like, this engagement will be made. And then, um, if.. If it’s a traditional wedding, sometimes.. It’s… it’s most of the time it happens at the southern part of Taiwan, they have really big, like, wedding ceremonies. They’ll invite hundreds of people. And they will go to like plazas in front of, um, temples and they will have a lot of tables of food. So, it’s like a huge, um, festival that invites all of the people. Your neighbors, friends you know. So, they’ll, uh, all go there. They will give out “hongbao,” which is red envelopes with money inside. So.. so, they will give those monies to, uh, the wedding couples and stuff, so they can have money to, you know, buy houses, buy stuff. So, that’s usually a part of, um, the gifts you give them. And during those… um…. dinners– So, there will be a lot of people who cook right there. And, uh, usually they will look at… they will enjoy, like, traditional Taiwanese operas, as well. So, yeah, that would be a show stage over there, and people would just eat, and there would be a performance going on.

Thoughts
The informant seemed to hold great respect for Taiwanese wedding traditions. When I asked if she saw her future wedding resembling these traditions, she said that she plans on likely staying in America, so whoever she marries might have traditions of their own, but that it would be important to her to include some of her Taiwanese traditions in the wedding process. Continuing Taiwanese wedding traditions seems to be a way for her to maintain her Taiwanese identity even while in an American setting.

Chinese Funerals (Taiwan)

This is a Chinese thing. After someone passes away, like Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad, whoever, it’s like a very long two-week, three-week ordeal where there’s a ton of praying, there’s a funeral where you go to a funeral home and then you pray for hours. You have to do like a special thing where you like put your hands together and bow and nod your head, it’s very, just….culture. Culture.

 

Do you say things? Is it silent prayer?

 

Yeah you have to say like, I don’t know, my mom told me I forgot. Sorry. But okay so for the death thing, they’ll…I cant remember exactly but they take the body to like a temple where it gets burned…

 

Is this after the praying?

 

Yeah, there’s praying for like a week, not like a straight week, but like – get up, go pray, get up, go pray, get up, go pray. So yeah you pray for a week while everything’s being prepared, like all the ceremonies are being prepared. So then you go to the temple, and while the body’s actually burning in the furnace you keep praying, a ton of people are there, even the grandchildren. You keep praying while it’s burning, and then afterwards my mom told me that they took out the tray, or whatever he was on… There were still some bones left, because bones don’t burn unless they’re cracked, unless the heat from the fire cracks them open or something. So apparently my grandpa’s femur bone and like tibia or something was still left there, so the grandkids have to go and pick those up…and then I forgot what she said they did with them! Um, I’m pretty sure they burned them or somehow like, crushed them. So they eventually burn all of them. And then they put him in this little box, his ashes. And actually there might be some other traditional things in there, sorry I don’t know. So, I mean this is for my family, I’m sure if you’re richer I’m sure you get like a special temple somewhere like really nice, but he was actually a veteran, so he was buried in the veteran cemetery. And it’s way different than our cemeteries, it’s like green grass, it’s taken care of by caretakers every single day, it’s beautiful, it’s up in the hills kind of, it’s really nice. So the whole family was there, my cousin, uncle, aunt, grandma, and other family members, and one of my cousins put the box on his back, they strap it on so they actually carry it up the mountain, all the way up to where his gravesite is. And then you bury the box in the ground. Also I don’t think you wanna like, take pictures of this because it’s kinda like, you’re capturing the soul, and you don’t wanna do that cause then the soul wont be able to go up to heaven. Or like the Chinese heaven. So I mean they didn’t take pictures of the box directly, but they took pictures of like the hills and stuff. And then they just pray some more, like say their goodbyes at the grave.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is a funeral ritual which involves a very lengthy and specific process for proper mourning, treatment and burial of the body and ashes, and symbolic acts. There is a specific time period of mourning, and even poses and physical actions in mourning; there are specific roles that different family member play in the ritual according to their ages; there are superstitions and beliefs regarding how the deceased’s spirit or soul gets to heaven, and how to do everything correctly so as not to interfere with that transition. The whole process seems to be both in support of the dead family member’s transition to the after life, as well as the family members remembering, honoring, and making sacred that person and their life.

The Ghost of Drunken Moon Lake

The informant learned the following legend while studying abroad in Taiwan, and told it to me while recounting her experience at National Taiwan University.

“At National Taiwan University, there’s a big lake in the middle of campus, and it’s called Drunken Moon Lake, and the story is that there was a woman who was I think rejected by her lover, for some reason couldn’t be with her lover, and she drowned herself in the lake and I’m not sure how long ago it was, so they believe that a ghost is an unhappy spirit, like an unrestful soul. And they believe that she lives there on the lake. So there is a pagoda in the middle of the lake that doesn’t have a bridge to it, there’s no way to get to it, so there’s just birds there, and they believe that she lives there with other unhappy female ghosts, female sprits, and that if you’re a man, you should not walk by the lake, especially at like sunset or dusk. And if you do walk by the lake, you should definitely not talk to any woman because it could be an evil spirit trying to seduce you and she’ll drag you into the lake with her. Or else, if she doesn’t drag you into the lake, she could also go with you and pretend to be your wife or your girlfriend, but she’ll continue to bring bad things into your life and continue to haunt you without you knowing. And you’ll think you’re in love with her and meanwhile she’s destroying your life. So yeah, don’t find a girlfriend at Drunken Moon Lake”

The informant learned of this legend gradually over her time studying abroad in Taiwan, as whenever she would be around the lake, other people would warn her and tell her about the ghost that resided in it. She received pieces of the story in both English and Mandarin from different people.

The informant did not mention anything regarding the origins of this tale, or why people believed it, but it seemed to be taken quite seriously. Like many other horror tales and legends, maybe its origins had some practical application. Perhaps it was meant to deter young men from approaching the lake for some reason. Perhaps someone wanted to keep them away from flirting with the women around the lake, or keep them from trying to swim in the lake.

A Taiwanese aboriginal story about two suns

The following story was told to me by the informant while talking about the things she learned while studying abroad in Taiwan.

“An aboriginal story from Taiwan… There’s a lot of different versions of it (the aboriginal story) and actually different tribes have the same story but different versions, but the one that I heard was told by a man of the Atyal tribe, he’s probably about sixty. So, It’s the story of two suns, and in the story, they’re living a long time ago, and the tribe is having a huge problem because there’s two suns in the sky, and it gets too hot, and it’s never dark, and it’s destroying the plants, and the people can’t live because they can’t sleep and they can’t produce any food for themselves, and I think the plant that they grow is millet. And so they want to select a hero from the tribe to go and shoot one of the suns with a bow and arrow, and so they keep on choosing the strongest man, and they have him go out. But every time he goes out, by the time he gets close enough to the sun to shoot it down, he’s become an old man, and he’s no longer the strong warrior of the tribe that could do it, and so they go on for a long time and they can’t… they have no way to solve the problem, and so then one time there’s a wise man and he’s strong, but he’s not the strongest, but he’s a smart young man and he says, ‘I’m going to take a young boy from the village, and I’m going to carry him on my back with me, and I’m gonna train him, and I’m gonna take him on my quest with me to take down the sun.’ and so by the time they get close enough to the sun, the wise young man is no longer a young man; he’s an old man. But he’s brought up a new young man who’s now strong enough pull the arrow and to shoot down the sun, and so he shoots down the sun and saves the tribe, and that’s how the story of two suns goes.”

The informant learned about this story because she was studying the ancient Taiwanese aboriginal language of the Atyal tribe. Their language is almost extinct, with only about 200 remaining native speakers. However, as the informant points out, this same legend is shared by some of the other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, in different versions. When I asked about the origins of the Atyal people and other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, the informant said that they are indeed related to the same Polynesian peoples who also inhabited New Zealand and/or Australia (she couldn’t remember which).

By examining aboriginal cultures where they are at risk of going extinct, we can learn more about ancient culture, and perhaps draw conclusions as to how modern cultures came to be. Unfortunately, aboriginal peoples like those belonging to the Atyal tribe are dwindling and being forgotten, a pattern that shows no signs of reversal. It’s important to document legends and myths such as the above before they disappear, so they can be examined and studied and perhaps teach us something about our modern society.

Crow’s Mouth

Information about the Informant

My informant is a freelance editor and translator living in Taiwan. She was born in Taiwan and has lived there essentially her whole life, except for a few years in America. I asked her specifically about this proverb that I’d heard my grandma tell me when I was young as I’d never really understood it, and she told me the origin of the proverb and how it became the version that I heard as a child.

Transcript

“‘Having a crow’s mouth.’ Because we Chinese believe—no, not believe, Chinese always claim that crows are bad luck. The story’s very simple. It’s just…we feel the crow—because it’s black, so it’s bad luck. So when it—and other people say…uh…most of the time, it’s just that we believe, it may go against biology, but we believe that most of the time, crows don’t speak. That they don’t go, ‘Wah, wah, wah, wah.’ So when they do speak, it’s that bad things are about to happen. That it’s kind of like…a…prophet, can predict, can tell you that bad luck or bad things are coming. So, so, when they speak, they just…they tell you that you will have misfortune—not necessarily you, not you specifically, just somewhere around there or Taiwan or something. Just that there’ll be misfortune.

So then people started saying ‘having a crow’s mouth,’ became like ‘you’re acting like…a crow.’ That is to say, what you say, after you say this thing, it’ll actually happen. So they’ll say you have ‘a crow’s mouth.’ But if…if a person says something and then it doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t count as ‘crow’s mouth.’

Collector: “But you…you—when you say someone has the ‘mouth of a crow,’ you don’t know yet if the thing will happen. Just, as soon as they say, ‘Oh, this bad thing might happen,’ then you need to say, ‘CROW’S MOUTH.’

‘Yes.’

Collector: So you haven’t even checked, to see if it’s really happened.

‘Yes. And, when it—when it first started, ‘crow’s mouth,’ this term was…was…changed—it was that the thing the person said, if it really happened, then we would berate him, saying, “It was you having a crow’s mouth.” That is, for instance, uh, we at NTCH [informant’s work place], each of us wishes…wishes that our boss won’t, won’t do a certain thing. And then a person then, then says, ‘Oh!’—never mind, if we, let me give an example, for instance, we have our first day off, we just had, let me see, Memorial Day. And the day before we get Memorial Day off, someone says, ‘Let’s hope that…after the holiday ends, the first day we come back to work, we don’t get called to a…kind of…meeting…that starts at 8 in the morning and lasts till 7 in the evening kind of meeting.’ I’ve heard that the person who likes our English writings, that boss has that kind of meeting a lot. And then…and then—because everyone thought he was just kidding, ‘No, no, no, that won’t happen,’ and then, yeah, the first day back at work, it actually happens that there’s a meeting from 8 in the morning, as soon as you get to the office, you get called to the meeting, lasting until the afternoon, 7 o’clock, getting home at 7 pm. And then people will yell at the person who said it, ‘You have a crow’s mouth.’ However, if it was this person, it happens that every thing he says like that always has this kind of effect, that is, whenever he says something, it always has this effect, for instance, he eats lunch, that one, that one, at that place that [a coworker of hers] took you to eat once, and then, the dish that they like to eat, they say, ‘I hope they’ll have that dish today,’ and then that person says again, ‘They won’t have that dish today because it’s that…um…that—lately that dish has been going up in price. They definitely won’t use that dish.’ And then when they go, they really don’t have that dish, they’ll say, ‘You had a crow’s mouth!’ And then…um…in the future, when he talks, people will say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth,’ to stop him first. So when he’s prepared to—before he, um, starts to talk, you have to say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth.’ But then, that is, nowadays, um—actually, Taiwanese people are becoming more and more superstitious. Because we’re having more and more bad luck. Don’t we say a lot that we are a bad luck family? The whole country, it has more and more of a workload, things like that. Less and less money. Then everyone starts to become really nervous, whenever someone starts to say something, they say, ‘Don’t have a crow’s mouth!’ Meaning in case, meaning if you say it, then it’ll become a bad thing. So, this phrase became a sort of ‘stop someone from becoming’—it’s superstitious, in case what they say becomes a thing that, um, comes true.”

Analysis

The meaning behind the proverb and how it became a preemptive warning instead of a way to blame someone after a misfortune is pretty clear in the transcript. I do agree with her that this change from a comment or exclamation after the fact to a warning (and the time I remember hearing my grandmother tell me the proverb, she did sound pretty horrified and frantic) does reflect a change in the culture of Taiwan. I don’t believe necessarily that it is due directly to a sort of economic crisis or “bad luck” for the whole island, but it does seem to at least reflect a change in behavior from a more relaxed one where such prophecies were not welcome but tolerated, to one that actively tries to prevent these prophecies from ever being made in the first place.

Original Chinese

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