Erenlai - 按標籤顯示項目: island
週一, 31 一月 2011 12:17

Going on a Pacific island 'holyday'

When discussing Taiwan’s links with the Pacific islands, it is well worth considering the religious dimension.  I have previously written about the connection that Taiwanese religious groups, in particular New Religious Movements, are seeking to forge with Mainland China[1].  However if we look in the other direction, from the gritty megacities of China to the lightly populated islands of the Pacific Ocean, we can see another current of religiosity that is circulating belief, culture and innovation.

The New Testament Church (NTC) is a small charismatic Protestant Church based at Mount Zion in Kaohsiung County in southern Taiwan. It was founded by a Hong Kong movie star in 1963 and has managed to survive leadership disputes, struggles with the Taiwanese government and natural disasters to now be in its fifth decade.  No small feat for a modestly sized and socially marginalized group. You can watch me give a brief introduction to the NTC here and here.

The NTC believes that God has chosen Taiwan’s Mount Zion instead of the traditional and better-known Mount Zion in Israel.  The mountain serves the important roles of not only being God’s home, but also the venue for the impending Tribulation (when Jesus will descend to Mount Zion and members of the NTC will ascend to heaven).  The NTC has developed Mount Zion into a community of around 300 adherents, complete with agricultural and educational facilities.

Furthermore, the NTC is a passionate and dedicated exponent of organic agriculture.  The rationale behind choosing organic farming over conventional (that is, pesticide-based) farming is that it is the ‘God-based’ way to farm. The NTC equates God’s law of creation, as outlined in the bible, with the natural method of farming.  As the bible does not contain any directive to use chemicals, the church therefore refrains from doing so.  In avoiding such pollutants, the NTC can more easily recreate their ideal of a holy and “Edenic” environment.  It seeks to do this on Mount Zion and at its properties abroad.

Mount Zion is an interesting place for tourists to visit, and one of utmost spiritual importance to the NTC.  However the spiritual power of the mountain is not limited to the peak in Taiwan – other places around the world also share in it.

The NTC has developed a series of ‘Offshoots of Zion’ around the world.  These rural properties are places where the NTC’s international adherents live, worship and farm.  Mostly scattered around Malaysia and the Pacific Rim, there are also two Offshoots of Zion on Pacific Islands – Eden Isle (伊甸島) on Tikehau, Polynesia and Mount Tabor (他泊山) on Tahiti.

Just as in Taiwan, the NTC’s community in the Pacific developed out of the Assemblies of God church. Having established Mount Tabor in 1985, the NTC has around 300 “exclusively Chinese” adherents in Tahiti[2]. The church has not limited itself to one island though, expanding elsewhere in the region.

Inhabited by the NTC since 1993, Eden Isle is a small island where the NTC has an organic farm and open-air church.  Based on reports by visiting sailors, the number of people living on Eden Isle seems to vary between 5 and 10.  This number can swell exponentially when international members of the NTC arrive for religious celebrations and various types of exchange programs.  There are a number of online reports from sailors passing by Tikehau who have been welcomed in by the NTC and given tours of the island[3].

In considering these two Pacific island spiritual centres, Mount Zion in Taiwan, and the NTC that binds them, we can get a glimpse of the dynamics between the two regions.  The main temple on Mount Zion was rebuilt in the late 1980s using indigenous Taiwanese techniques and designs.  In turn, the venues of worship on Eden Isle and Mount Tabor reflect the style of Mount Zion’s temple. Mount Tabor’s temple appears to be an almost perfect copy of Mount Zion’s temple. The Eden Isle temple is smaller and more open than that of Mount Tabor, yet remains true to the form of the temple on Mount Zion.  Yet it is not only a temple template that the NTC has imported.

Representatives of the NTC have been keen to point out to me the work that the church has done in the Pacific with regard to organic farming, particularly innovations in composting methods.  Indeed, the French Polynesian government has even engaged the NTC to provide consultancy services and training in organic farming techniques [4].

However, the flow of knowledge and religious concepts is not simply one-way.  Children from the NTC’s ‘Eden Homestead’ school system spend time in the Pacific centres learning about agriculture, in both its practical and spiritual dimensions.  These children are not just from Taiwan and Malaysia, but also Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.  In this sense, Eden Isle and Mount Tabor have become the metaphorical hub of a trans-Pacific ‘spiritual wheel’, circulating the beliefs of the NTC around the Pacific Rim.

The traditional costumes and accoutrements of the Pacific islands have also made their way back to Mount Zion. For instance, whereas once couples were married at Mount Zion wearing western-style wedding outfits, now they dress in more simple outfits that demonstrate a Pacific influence (through accessories such as floral garlands, shell belt buckles and bare feet)[5].  Alternatively, dressing like this could also reflect Taiwan’s own indigenous traditions.  Either way, it contrasts starkly with the modern wedding traditions that are so popular in Taiwan.

The New Testament Church is only small and has a fledgling presence in the Pacific. Nevertheless, it is a pertinent example of how a decidedly non-mainstream Taiwanese organization has created a presence in there. The NTC's exchange of ideas – be they religious, agricultural or cultural – is multifaceted and of use to us when trying to conceive how Taiwan sits in relation to its Pacific Island neighbours.

Photo: P.F.

[1] http://www.erenlai.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3982:an-overview-of-religious-life-in-modern-taiwan&catid=688:october-2010&Itemid=331&lang=en

[2] http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/1118#tocto2n3

[3] http://www.thebigvoyage.com/the-pacific/tikehau-day-2-lagoon-excursion/

[4] http://tahitipresse.pf/2009/12/le-bio-une-voie-davenir-pour-lagriculture-polynesienne/

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeFTDGwo8sA


週三, 04 八月 2010 17:27

A glimpse into Matsu’s island

Have you ever heard of Matsu?

Most of the people I have met in Taiwan or abroad who never been to Matsu refer to it as a military island or think of the famous Chinese Goddess of the Sea: “Mazu” (馬祖). Unfortunately not many people know about this beautiful and quiet island (actually, Matsu is an archipelago of 19 small islands, divided into four townships*), which belongs to Lienchiang County (連江縣) of the Republic of China (ROC). Matsu is situated in the Taiwan Strait, only 10 miles (16 km) away from China, close to Fujian province, but 120 miles (193 km) away from Taiwan. I was astonished to see at Nangan harbor how very close China is to Matsu, just 40 minutes by boat.

My first trip to Matsu was during the Chinese New Year and I will never forget it. Indeed, as you might say, I did not choose the right time to go to this island. The weather was bad and all the residents of Matsu were going back home to Matsu to spend New Year with their families. My flight was delayed and I had to wait until the next day before to take another plane.... However, there were no normal passenger planes and I had to take a military transport airplane. Everyone was in the baggage hold, sitting all together in two long rows, not so comfortable but quite worth it simply for the experience. Fortunately, the plane trip was short, only 45 minutes, and I did not have to jump by parachute for the landing. This reinforced my strong impression that Matsu is well served by its nickname of Military Island! However, I discovered during my stay on this island that Matsu is much more than just a military island.

Matsu was the furthest military outpost of Taiwan’s Chinese Nationalists when the Communists established their power in the mainland in 1949. Since 1992, when martial law on the island was lifted, the number of soldiers stationed on Matsu has significantly decreased, as has as the fishing industry, which has had an adverse effect on Matsu’s economy. Consequently, with the support of the Taiwanese government, Matsu decided to develop a cultural economy. For example, many military facilities and historic monuments can now be visited, such as the secret military tunnels. They were built during the 1950s to hold ships that could launch surprise attacks on the mainland. It is quite amazing that the existence of these tunnels was unknown even by the residents of Matsu until 1992. Capitalizing on the fame of its Goddess namesake, the tallest statue of Mazu in the world is in Nangan Township.

lise_darbas_matsu2In addition, I was quite impressed by Matsu’s unique stone houses, built in the style of Eastern Min architecture. Indeed, the native people of Matsu were originally immigrants from Eastern Fujian or Eastern Min, so they do not speak Taiwanese but the Fuzhou dialect (福州話, or閩北話). One of the most well-known traditional sites, the village of Qinbi in Beigan (dating from the Ming and Qing Dynasties), bears a strong resemblance to Mediterranean architecture. Most of these houses are nowadays not inhabited during winter vacations. They have been restored and converted into art galleries, coffee shops and bed and breakfast guesthouses to cater for tourists. Walking between these houses made me felt like if I was in a small ghost town. There was strong wind coming from the sea, and I noticed the peculiarity of the roof tiles of the stone houses, which were all weighed down with rocks to defend against the wind. Winter vacation is not the ideal time to fully enjoy Matsu, rather the best time to go to this island is from June to November. During this period the weather is much more favorable for hiking and enjoying a coffee on the terrace of stone houses next to the seaside.

Matsu is now trying its best to lure tourist and attract more interests. Before going to Matsu, I heard of Josh Wenger, an American doctoral student at National Taiwan University who won a competition to be mayor of Matsu for a day. In October 2009, inspired by the famous publicity of “The best job in the world” on Hamilton Island (part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef), Matsu had the brilliant idea to create an online quiz of 10 questions on Matsu’s geographical and historical facts to promote itself. The winner had the amazing opportunity to become the mayor of Matsu for one day, with an award of NT$10,000, and a stay of 3 days and 2 nights in free accommodation.

lise_darbas_Josh_Matsu_5I interviewed Josh who was deeply impressed by Matsu, which he describes as an interesting island with a rich cultural heritage and beautiful natural sites, friendly people and exceptionally tasty food, which was some of the best he has ever tasted in Taiwan. The food he enjoyed the most was fresh seafood, such as seafood noodles, the Buddha hands (炒佛手), and fried clams (炒花蛤). I also found Matsu’s food very delicious, for example, I enjoyed eating Matsu’s “Red rice yeast chicken” (紅糟雞) in the small cozy coffee shop “Lady Coffee” (夫人咖啡) next to the coast in Nangan Township.

Josh’s favorite places were in Beigan island, such as “Biyuan Park” (碧園, which means “green garden”) a small beautiful park with plaques containing the names of soldiers who lost their lives serving in the military; the mountain “Bishan” (北竿大沃山) is the highest peak of the Matsu island with an incredible view of Beigan island, and the “88 tunnel” (八八坑道), which originally took its name to commemorate Chiang Kai-shek’s 88th birthday. Since 1992, this tunnel is no longer a military facility, but is instead used by the people of Matsu to keep their best old rice liquor (老酒) in ceramic pots.

Following on from my short stay in Matsu, and after having interviewed Josh, I became even more interested by this small island. Although Matsu is not as well known as the main island of Taiwan, it is undoubtedly one of the most interesting historical and natural sites I have visited here. I believe that Matsu is an indispensable destination for understanding cross-Strait relations. Moreover, Matsu’s cultural assets such as the stone houses are some of the most important attractions of the island, and have given Matsu a charm and special atmosphere that seems to be from another time. What was once a frontier of the Cold War is now ideal tourist spot for a relaxing couple of days.

(Photos courtesy of J. Wenger and L. Darbas)

Links:

“Matsu National Scenic Area,” http://www.matsu-nsa.gov.tw/User/Main.aspx?Lang=2.

“Matsu’s best-kept cultural heritage: Eastern Min architecture at Qinbi village,” http://www.culture.tw/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1430&Itemid=157

Watch Josh Wenger’s report about his experience being the mayor of Matsu:「 一日縣長」溫賈舒:馬祖的美麗景點,絕對要去看

 

*Nangan (南竿鄉), Beigan (北竿鄉), Juguang (莒光鄉), Dongyin (東引鄉)


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