Welcome to a this week’s ‘Next Stop Who Knows’ blog.
The blog is written by Boyle natives Carlo Cretaro and Florence Murphy who left their homes in Boyle 7 years ago to travel the world and start an online business. They visit some weird and wonderful places and write about their experiences on their blog over at www.nextstopwhoknows.com. Specialising in web design and lead generation for local businesses, you can read more about their services at www.nextstopmarketing.com
The Chinese Vegetarian Festival, Phuket Thailand
Back in 2013 while we were living in Phuket, Thailand, we had the opportunity to experience the bizarre, yet fascinating Chinese Vegetarian Festival.
Each year this festival take place during the 9th Lunar month – October. The locals who partake in the rituals during the festival believe that not eating any meat or other stimulants will bring peace and good health to them.
One of the first questions you might have, is why is it called the Chinese Vegetarian Festival if it takes place in Thailand?
Back over 150 years ago, the island of Phuket was predominantly populated by Chinese who worked in the tin mines on the island. From our research we couldn’t find an exact origin for the festival, but we did find out that the festival is also known as the “Nine Emperor Gods Festival”.
If you’re averse to seeing huge amounts of blood or body parts being pierced with the strangest of objects, then this isn’t a festival you’d want to experience.
The various types of rituals/celebrations include self-mutilations – such as slashing tongues, walking on burning coal, climbing ladders made from razor blades and using a hatchet to make deep wounds in the body.
Not your typical western idea of a ‘festival’, eh?! Who remembers the Gala Festival in Boyle? Well, savour those memories because this is nothing like that!
Those that are taking part in the celebrations have to obey a few very strict set of commandments.
The Ten Commandments are:
- Abstain from killing animals;
- Abstain from eating all kinds of meat;
- Abstain from stealth and embezzlement;
- Abstain from harming others bodily or mentally;
- Abstain from telling lies, using obscene language or swearing at people;
- Abstain from touching people of the opposite sex or talking with them flirtingly;
- Abstain from taking alcohol or using narcotics;
- Abstain from gambling;
- Abstain from wearing ornaments including those made of metals or leather;
- Abstain from sharing receptacles or utensils or a meal with people who do not observe the commandments.
As well as those people taking part in the rituals – there are unmarried men and women (called masong) who let the spirit of the Gods enter their bodies. You can easily spot these people, because they definitely act and look possessed.
Apart from the daily piercings that take place over the 9 days of the festival, you can expect loud processions that include firecrackers, music, dancers and so much smoke that the streets look like they’ve just been hit with a few missiles.
Would kind of remind you of Cleo’s dancefloor on a Saturday night back in the 90’s when DJ Dermot used to let loose on the smoke machines!
By far the most engrossing spectator aspect of the whole event is the piercing ceremony that takes place around sunrise.
From normal everyday objects like knives and spears to crazy things like guitars and guns – if an object is sharp enough to pierce the skin, it’s fair game.
We were extremely fascinated by this. It is quite shocking to see up close and personal. Men were screaming in pain. One man in particular started shaking as if he was possessed while a few others held him down as they pierced his cheek with a long metal pipe!
This festival isn’t for everyone and those who don’t like guts and gore should stay well clear. You have been warned!
As keen amateur photographers, it represented one of the best opportunities we’ve ever had to document a ritual like this. We took thousands of photos over the course of the 9 days we spent there in 2013.
While we’ve been back to Phuket a few times since, we’ve never been there around October to revisit the festival but we wouldn’t rule it out. Going back and seeing what lengths other people go to in order to honour their Gods can only open our eyes a little bit more to the big world that’s out there waiting to be explored.
And, after all, who doesn’t love a good festival?!
Log on again on March 12th for more from ‘Next Stop Who Knows’ only on Boyletoday.com
If you’d like to see a YouTube video of some of the footage we put together from our visit to the festival, then please check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYTGu4FBGss