Monday, October 1, 2007

Matsu Islands to Host Summit on Marine Goddess

From the Taipei Times STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA Friday, Sep 28, 2007, Page 4 Academia Sinica is organizing an international conference next month to discuss belief in the goddess Matsu and her connection with the Matsu Islands, officials with the Lienchiang County Government's Cultural Affairs Bureau said yesterday. The officials said that Academia Sinica's Institute of Ethnology would invite 40 academics from Taiwan and abroad to participate in the conference on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 at the Matsu Folklore Culture Museum in Nangan (南竿), one of five major islands in the Matsu archipelago. Altogether, 15 papers will be presented at the conference on different aspects of the belief in the "Goddess of the Sea" and the historical relationship with the Matsu Islands. Matsu was born in 960AD to a fisherman's family in China's Fujian Province during the Sung dynasty and was given the name Lin Mo-niang (林默娘). Legend has it she was a genius with supernatural powers, including the ability to calm storms at sea. The numerous miracles ascribed to her include rescuing sailors in distress and curing the sick with her vast knowledge of Chinese medicine. One day, at the age of 28, she told her parents it was time for her to leave them. After reaching the top of a mountain near her home, she was encircled by clouds and carried into the heavens in a golden glow amid enchanting celestial music. She was deified and referred to as Matsu. Emperors in the Ming and Ching dynasties referred to her as the "Heavenly Empress." Residents on the Matsu Islands, however, have a different version of the story. They believe that Lin Mo-niang drowned while trying to rescue her father from a storm at sea, and that her body was washed ashore on the island of Nangan. A temple named the Palace of the Heavenly Empress was built on Nangan. The temple is said to contain her sarcophagus. The local people also named the archipelago Matsu in memory of the goddess, but the first character in the name was later changed to give it a different tone so as to make it sound more masculine. Today, Matsu has become the most widely worshipped deity in Taiwan, with temples dedicated to her seen in almost every township and city. Academia Sinica is the nation's most prominent academic institution, with more than 1,000 full-time research fellows undertaking in-depth academic research on various subjects.

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