Preserving the past and presenting ancestral wisdom
"Sunshine, beach, and cactuses" are the things about Penghu (澎湖) that usually make the deepest impression on most people. Yet Penghu is much more than just a group of islands rich in humanistic history, mass culture and folk beliefs. The residents in the island of Penghu have their own philosophy of life in terms of eating, clothing, living, transportation, education and recreation.
"Burning hot sun; gaillardia blooms in shades of bright yellow-orange; traditional Southern Fujian style buildings with horseback styled roof ridge; Gu-lao Stone House (咕咾石屋) made of local reef limestone; fishing boats that help brave local residents make a living from the unpredictable sea, thus forming a spirit to overcome any difficulties. " These are some of the best words to describe the local residents' life in Penghu. And the Penghu Living Museum (澎湖生活博物館) was established to showcase every detail of life in Penghu, preserving and recording the life experience in Penghu as well as its rich history and cultural relics.
The vision of the Penghu Living Museum, to "guard the island and embrace the sea to discover the true Penghu," lies in its quest to publicize the wisdom of life in Penghu and unite the consciousness of local residents. It also involves exploring the cultural vision of the local residents and helping them establish their self-confidence regarding local culture through exchanges of special exhibitions. "We spent 12 years in preparation. That sounds like it took a long time. However, when compared to the 700 years of history you find in Penghu, 12 years was not that long a time. In order to grow stronger and more prosperous, Penghu Living Museum is just like a newborn baby who needs the support of all sectors and residents of Penghu in maintaining and promoting it," says Tseng Hui-hsiang, director of the Penghu County Cultural Affairs Bureau. Let's take a look at the museum, following in Tseng's footsteps to revisit Penghu's former cultural scenes and understand in-depth details of life in Penghu.
Entering the historical time gallery of Penghu
Following behind Tseng, who eagerly introduces every object and talks about its history, we enter the second floor of the museum and travel through the arched time gallery.
On one side of the gallery you will see the pictures depicting the scenes of cargo being unloaded in the port of Magong during the Qing dynasty, a glimpse of the pioneer period in Penghu. On the other side of the gallery, you find showcases filled with archaeological relics that have been unearthed in the islands, as well as maps of Penghu drawn by Dutch cartographers during the late Ming dynasty. There are also pictures of shipwrecks and traders, films on underwater archaeological excavation for the sunken "General Number One" and other memorabilia, constituting a series of historical images from different periods of time.
The Han Chinese began land reclamation in Penghu as early as the Tang and Song dynasties (8th and 9th century A.D.). They emigrated from coastal mainland China and settled down in Penghu for various reasons including natural disasters and war. During late Ming dynasty (the first half of the 17th century), a major famine occurred in Fujian Province. Large numbers of refugees moved from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou to Penghu, marking the biggest wave of immigration in the islands' history and establishing the foundation for today's settlements in Penghu. A lot of ancestral records kept by local residents have also documented this part of Penghu's incredible story of survival.
Fishermen's hardships transmitted through the Bao-Ge (褒歌)
As you walk through the gallery you will hear the Bao-Ge, a special folk song sung in the Min-nan dialect of Southern Fujian, usually in the form of narration or oral transmission. The lyrics of the Bao-Ge, a highly distinctive cultural asset in Penghu, mostly express how fishermen left their families behind for a life of struggle and hardship in Taiwan, as well as the difficult working environment and social customs of the low to middle-class people in Penghu. The music is a sobering reflection on local popular culture in the early days of Penghu. You can also experience Penghu's strong local emotions while enjoying Bao-Ge with other more joyful and pleasurable themes.
The miracle of ships delivering wood from Dongshan Island
The reason there are as many as 200 temples in Penghu is because, according to Tseng, hundreds of years ago when the ancestors arrived in Penghu, which was just a desolate island, they led a lifestyle in which the future was highly unpredictable. Thus the local residents needed to establish a belief they could rely on for comfort as a cohesive force. The best-known miracle story about the temples and their beliefs is the "Legend of the Ships Sending Fir Wood from Dongshan Island" (東山船「送杉傳奇」.) Huang You-chian, a 79-year-old decorative painter for temples, witnessed the miracle regarding the ships delivering fir woods from Dongshan, China, in 1945.
One of Penghu's temples was destroyed in an air raid in 1945 during World War II. Unfortunately there was shortage of suitable wood to re-build the temple. One day, a possessed shaman in the temple predicted that a load of wood had been prepared by the Shang-Di Temple on Dongshan island, China, and would be delivered to Penghu. The shaman even elaborately informed the local people how much and exactly when the wood would arrive. On the date the shaman predicted, three ships carrying wood arrived dockside at Magong. Almost all the residents if Magong city rushed to the port to witness the miracle. The story about Mazu (媽祖 the Goddess of the Sea) and her power to rescue people from disasters was once again strengthened among the local people in Penghu.
Unique ritual ceremony
Since Penghu is geographically isolated from the main island of Taiwan, the people of the island group have developed unique ritual ceremonies that mostly retain the distinctive traditional forms performed in temple fairs. In the museum, one sees the delightful Horse Admiral (報馬仔, also known as the flying messenger), the handsome Parasol Admiral (涼傘手, a tutelary god), and shamans and exorcists dressed in special costumes. In addition, the distinctive ceremony of the "King Boat burning" (燒王船) is introduced through models and documentaries on display in the museum, clearly illustrating how the King Boat is carved and how the king is escorted.
Moreover, Penghu has accumulated its own distinctive customs and traditional cultures in celebrating festivals that are different from the ones held in Taiwan, such as Qingming Festival, Ghost Festival, and Winter Solstice.
Fishermen life in Penghu
The Southern Fujian-style old house, the Vegetable House (菜宅), and Shek Hu (石滬) are the so-called "three treasures" in Penghu's culture. The Southern Fujian-style old house with its horseback styled roof ridge represents an age in Penghu when only households with a family member who had passed the imperial were allowed to build a house with the swallow-tail styled roof ridge, which symbolizes wealth and good fortune. The Vegetable House is a vegetable garden encircled by high stone walls made of Gu-lao stone or basalt to prevent wind damage. Finally, the Shek Hu (石滬, stone weir), used for fishing in the early days, utilizes the principle of rising and falling tides to catch fish. In the past, having a Shek Hu also symbolized wealth, hence the old saying, it's easier for a man who has built a Shek Hu to get married, remarks Tseng.
On the third floor of the museum, you will see exhibits showing customs that are closely related to the daily life of local families in Penghu, such as the ancient rites and ceremonies of marriage, an antique 'grandma-bed' worth millions, local culinary delicacies, rituals of ancestor worship, traditional and modern leisure and recreation, and many other unexpected surprise, many of which are reminders of childhood memories for local visitors.
Toward more diversity in cultural exchanges in the future
In addition to carrying out exchanges with the National Palace Museum, Tseng said, museum organizers hope the Penghu Living Museum will have other chances to cooperate with other cultural organizations to exhibit more collections to local residents and visitors. The Penghu Living Museum is playing an important role by helping local residents have a chance to enjoy valuable cultural exhibitions without having to travel to Taiwan, thereby enhancing artistic appreciation and serving an educational function for the people of Penghu.