Grappling With Ghosts 搶孤

Grappling with the Ghosts Festival 搶孤 is held on the last day of the Ghost Month holiday.  It’s a unique festival that celebrates the end to the trepidatious holiday when the dead are said to be walking the earth.  Why people need to climb greased poles to celebrate this day is beyond me, but it sure is cool!!!

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Come on, you knew there would be fireworks.

Held in Toucheng, Grappling with the Ghosts is festival that I really can’t explain to you…  It’s unique for sure, but the reason I can’t explain it is that there is so little information online about it.  If you search in English, you’re only going to find a few pages; if you search in Chinese, it’s not much better; if you ask a Taiwanese person, they’ll know that it happens, but that’s probably about it.  So I’ll tell you the little that I know below, and if you know anything more, please share with us in the comment section.

Let’s start with Ghost Month:

Ghost Month, aka the Ghost Festival, is held every year during the lunar month of July.  It’s celebrated by Taoists and Buddhists all over Asia as a month when ghosts get a holiday from Hell and spend some time walking the Earth.  For that reason, many things are avoided during this month: surgery, swimming, buying cars, moving house, getting married, staying out at night…  basically everything fun.  You also don’t want to flash your address around, for fear that a ghosts might find out where you live and miss the call back to hell at the end of the month.

On the first day of Ghost Month, the gates of Hell (conveniently located in Keelung) are thrown open, and all the ghosts come rushing out.  You, as a living person, need to make sure the ghosts are happy during their vacation by making offerings of food, clothing, and money frequently.  Oh, and go to the Ghost Festival Parade in Keelung, because it’s pretty fun.

Grappling with the Ghosts Festival 搶孤

Like I said before, I really can’t tell you much about the symbolism behind this festival, so I’ll just do my best to explain what I saw in the captions.  I can tell you that it’s held on July 29th of the Lunar Calendar every year somewhere in Toucheng.  Show up at about 9, eat some food, check out the pigs and all that weird stuff, then stake out a spot to watch the pole climbing.  Just for the record, I’ve seen pictures of girls pole dancing, too.  Not sure when that is, but if you know, let me know.  ;)

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

Around the base of the climbing structure is the usual Taiwanese style night market. Great food and drinks, singing and dancing to pop songs, too many people bumping into each other, and… a bar!!!

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, proest, Taiwan, Taoism, temple, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

Directly in front of the climbing structure is a temporary temple, with Taoist priests chanting and singing.

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

The Taoist priest was keeping all the spirits in order with chanting and prayers.

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

Also located in front of the climbing structure are a bunch of dead pigs. They all have a pineapple in their mouth, red pigment on their skin, a dead rooster on their back, and a fish hanging below them… If anyone could tell me anything about any of these symbolisms, I’d appreciate it.

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

Also located in front of the climbing structure are a bunch of dead pigs. They all have a pineapple in their mouth, tattoos on their skin, a dead rooster on their back, and a fish hanging below them… If anyone could tell me anything about any of these symbolisms, I’d appreciate it.

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

Also located in front of the climbing structure are a bunch of dead pigs. They all have a pineapple in their mouth, tattoos on their skin, a dead rooster on their back, and a fish hanging below them… If anyone could tell me anything about any of these symbolisms, I’d appreciate it.

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

Also located in front of the climbing structure are a bunch of dead pigs. They all have a pineapple in their mouth, tattoos on their skin, a dead rooster on their back, and a fish hanging below them… If anyone could tell me anything about any of these symbolisms, I’d appreciate it.

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, goat sacrifice, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

Along with all the pig sacrifices, there was one skinned goat with a bouquet of flowers… Again, I’m stumped.

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

The food offerings I can explain a bit. You have to offer the ghosts food, money, clothes, etc., to keep them happy and off your back for the time they’re in the living world. This is their last night on Earth, so there were lots of offerings for them on this night.

The food offerings I can explain a bit. You have to offer the ghosts food, money, clothes, etc to keep them happy and off your back for the time they’re in the living world. This is their last night on Earth, so there were lots of offerings for them on this night.

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

The climbing structure: The base has 12 greased, 20 meter poles. The top has 13, 30 meter bamboo towers, covered in pastry and other foods. (Read that again)

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

The climbing structure: The base has 12 greased, 20 meter poles. The top has 13, 30 meter bamboo towers, covered in pastry and other foods. (Read that again)

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

The 12 teams start by trying to get some of the grease off the poles. They throw ghost money (usually used for burning) at it until the first few meters are clean(ish).

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

Then, they make the 5 man pyramid, as you would expect.

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

Then it gets really tough. They use thick ropes wrapped around the poles at their hands and feet to pull themselves up the greased poles. This is the most ridiculous part. Just think about how hard this is!

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

Then, when they finally get to the platform (after 30-45 min of struggling up those poles), they have to pull themselves up over the edge of the platform… With grease all over their bodies!!!

Finally, the winners climb to the top of the bamboo towers, about 50 meters off the ground, and cut the top of the bamboo.

Asia, Buddhism, Daoism, Ghost Festival, Grappling with Ghosts Festival, Ilan, Taiwan, Taoism, Toucheng, Yilan, 台灣, 宜蘭, 搶孤, 頭城

Finally, the winners climb to the top of the bamboo towers, about 50 meters off the ground, and cut the top of the bamboo.

Here’s a video that I found that explains everything a bit more, but still leaves me with unanswered questions:

http://www.culture.tw/index.php?option=com_seyret&task=videodirectlink&Itemid=260&id=90

Thanks for reading.
-Neil

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Categories: Must See Taiwan, PHOTOGRAPHY, TAIWAN | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Grappling With Ghosts 搶孤

  1. Awesome photographs, thanks, Neil!

  2. Sitanshu Shekhar

    When and where would be the Fireworks?

  3. Pingback: Grappling with the Ghosts of Taiwan’s Past | Mission Taiwan

  4. Pingback: Grappling with Ghosts Festival 頭城搶孤 |

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