Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Some Features of Big Tree Worship in Taiwan

This large tree by an earth god temple near my house was severely damaged in a recent typhoon. It is composed of two trees, a mango tree and a longan tree, which grew up intertwined, and thus gives both fruits. Like many sacred trees, it is usually wrapped in a red ribbon, though not when this picture was taken.

From: Yaun Chang-rue. Big Tree Worship among Taiwan Folk Society. Proceedings of the International Conference on Anthropology and the Museum, Edited by Lin Tsong-yuan, Taiwan Museum, June, 1995....

"Generally, arbors constitute the major object regarded as important in big tree worship among Taiwan folk society. Examples are:

(1) Ficus Wightiana, Wall var. japonica Mig.
...People worship the banyan tree as an immortal because they are impressed with the symbolism of human reproduction evidenced by its intense coverage of leaves and branches and because of the numerous air roots that become trunks upon entering the ground. These many roots symbolize the many generations to come.

(2) Camphor Tree
...the camphor tree also is worshiped by the folk for its prosperous branches and leaves, being tall and huge. In practical aspects, the camphor tree is the source of camphor oil which is believed to be of medical effectiveness. In addition, camphor wood is the most familiar material for the sculptures of idols.

(3) Bischofia javanica Blume
...also known as the chungyang tree in Taiwan [MT: image]... Both leaves and fruit are edible. its leaves when dried can be used as an alternative to tea leaves.

Evergreen with branches usually showing the shape of a human being, Chungyang Mu also gives its medical effectiveness.

(4) Juniperus chinesis, L.
To common folk, juniper, being huge and long lasting, is the symbol of longevity and thus to be worshiped.

(5) Others
Trees growing edible fruits, such as lemon, longan, or hardwoods deemed significant, or bamboo, are worshiped.

Still, banyan, camphor, and chungyang trees are the most popular objects of worship in folk society. Other trees are rarely worshiped. But if they are worshiped, they usually have the following characteristics:

(1) They must be very old
These trees must be at least a hundred years old, a symbol of longevity, a goal for everyone in folk society.

(2) They must be huge


(3) They must be in some way fantastic

For instance, two trees may grow entangled with each other, or a human shape may grow out of the trunk. These trees are worshiped since they are unusual.

(4) They must be mysterious
These trees are immortal, and believed to have charms or a curse...

(5) They are usually evergreen*

(6) They heal

Bark or leaves or both growing from these trees are taken with therapeutic effects. The miracle is that usually they do have positive effects on certain keratitis or dermatitis.

Properties and functions of the Big Tree Worship
Big tree personification is also mentioned in folk usage as "shu kung", meaning grandfather. When in the same community there are two big trees worshiped at the same time, they are referred to as a couple, "kung" and "poh", i.e. grandfather and grandmother, thus giving a very intimate relationship of the immortal to the mortal..."

*The writer means trees with green leaves, not needles.
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