Yanshui, a small district in southern Taiwan, celebrates one of the world’s most dangerous festivals. Called the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, it is the third-largest folk celebration in the world. Festival-goers and thrill-seeking visitors don themselves in homemade fire protective gear from head to toe to participate in this annual religious tradition.
The festival is recognized by its many names: Yanshui Fireworks Festival, Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, or Yanshui Beehive Rockets Festival. Or as the locals call it Yanshui Feng Pao or ‘Yanshui Bee Canons’. It is held on the 14th or 15th day of the Lunar New Year in Taiwan’s Tainan City. Scores of bottle rocket fireworks are launched into the crowd of people who are braced to be hit by the rockets for good luck.
Image acquired from Radseason.
Origin of the festival
In the late 1800s, during the Qing Dynasty, Yanshui grappled with a deadly cholera outbreak for two decades. Medical amenities were subpar, which riddled the local townspeople with fear for their survival. They prayed to their Holy Ruler Deity Guan Yu, the Chinese God of war, to ward off the disease claiming their lives.
The deity urged residents to parade him through the streets of Yanshui in his palanquin and set off fireworks behind him on the night of Lantern Festival Day. The procession lasts throughout the night, and it is believed that the plague outbreak declined in great numbers following the event.
“Sulfur in the fireworks killed the bacteria and the loud noise scared away the rats that carried the plague,” claims the festival director and manager of the 17th-century Wu Temple, Lin Yi-ren to CNN.
Since then, on the night of Lantern Festival Day, the later generations of Yanshui proceeded with this tradition pompously. The Holy Sedan chair of Deity Guan Yu cavalcades through the whole town after departing from Emperor Guan Temple.
Unleashing the ‘Beehives’
Residencies and stores set off racks of fireworks once the Holy Sedan chair passes. The procession comes to a halt at a sports field where the main firework event occurs. Believers and followers run through fireworks once lit, inviting them to hit their bodies. Getting struck by the rockets is considered to be a fortunate feat by the devotees.
Image acquired from The Taiwan Photographer.
Massive metal and bamboo racks are meticulously loaded with bottle rockets aimed directly at the people. An estimated 1.4 million rockets start flying like a swarm of bees – hence the term ‘beehive’. These racks are better known as Walls or pao cheng (artillery fortress), and it comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Participants in a frenzy!
All the participants of this hazardous festival wrap themselves in homely protection gear – a full-faced helmet; a cotton mask to cover the mouth and nose; a cotton scarf or cotton towel to secure the neck; padded or thick cotton jackets for the body and cotton gloves to protect the hands; and finally full-length trousers or jeans and a pair of shoes.
Each wall launches one at a time, driving the crowd into a frenzy. One by one, thousands of rockets are fired until the previous one subsides. The participants frolic across the field caused by the massive adrenaline rush of getting hit with beehive rockets, surrounded by the sound of firecrackers and music. The event goes on until sundown post which the crowd retires following a low-key fireworks display.
This article is part of TFword’s Where In The World Series, find the previous article from the series below!
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Feature Image Via okok.blogspot.