Seven Steps Walking with the Dragon
The traditional Miaoli fire dragon has a six-part: Making of Dragon, Dotting the Eyes of Dragon Auspicious Dragon, Greeting the Dragon, Following the Dragon, Night of Bombing the Dragon, The Ascension of the Dragon. According to the research of Hakka folk experts, the Hakkas who came to Taiwan two hundred years ago will find a mountain dragon god to build a village, survive by the mountain dragon god, and create a unique “Dragon”. Let Dragon God not only be the patron saint of the guest house, but also the patron saint of Hakka, so we not only see the dragon god incense in the temple but also the sacrificial offering of the dragon god under the hall where the Hakka sacrificed their ancestors, gradually forming the unique dragon god of the Hakka people. Faith, through the dragon god belief, we can understand that the Hakka people are romantic groups living between heaven (the gods), the earth (the dragons), and the mountains and rivers.
Since 2020, ”Walk with the Dragon” has been officially included in the second step of the Miaoli fire dragon, becoming the dragon seven-part of the Miaoli fire: Making of Dragon, Walk with the Dragon, Dotting the Eyes of Dragon Auspicious Dragon, Greeting the Dragon, Following the Dragon, Night of Bombing the Dragon Bombing, The Ascension of the Dragon. Before the annual goal of Dotting the Eyes of Dragon, the “Hakka Dragon Altar” was set up in Miaoli City, and the “Dragon’s Retreat” ceremony was held in the form of a cultural carnival, which not only made the dragon shape on the side of the Miaoli fire more complete and Hakka. In order to make Miaoli City a “cultural dragon city”, we will further develop our cultural creativity and shape the image of “Hakka Dragon God” once a year into the world and close to the people.
1. Making The Dragon
Dating back to the agrarian society, when following the “winter storage” of the Hakkas in Miaoli, people called “dragon masters” would try to “manage the dragon” (Hakka, which means setting up a dragon team) by beginning the process of “pasting dragon” (Hakka, which means manufacturing), during the fallow period of cultivation.
The production of the dragon had to be finished before the Chinese New Year to get ready for the practice of dragon dance, to be perfected in time for use during season’s greetings in and about the Lantern Festival. Because Miaoli is a great producer of Kui bamboo, pasting the dragon employed local material on grounds of economy, availability, and utility. Kui bamboo would be sliced into bamboo strips, to be used for dragon head and dragon tail. All dragon tails flare upwards, those which flare to the right represent female dragons, and those to the left male ones. This is followed by producing dragon circles, which will then be pasted on to the finished dragon draperies (dragon clothing) by pre-arranged order. The production of the dragon draperies has to be cut to fit the size of the already pasted dragon, its length measured by sections, with one single piece of cloth from top to toe, without any cuttings or seams. As soon as the main trunk of the dragon is assembled, its sections can no longer be shortened. Following are the steps of painting the scales, connecting with the dragon fins and the dragon belly, and the whole process could come to completion. Usually the dragon drapery will be added with a 2-meter long red cloth to its head, so that the red drape will billow beautifully while the dragon dances, apart from adding to the good fortune suggested by the lucky red.
2. Walk with the Dragon
According to the research of Hakka folk experts, the Hakkas who came to Taiwan two hundred years ago will look for the mountain dragon god to build a village, survive by the mountain dragon god, and create a unique culture. The dragon god is not only the patron saint of Hakka village, but also the patron saint of Hakka. Therefore, we can not only see the dragon incense in the temple, but also see the dragon in the temple of the ancestors in the Hakka’s home. The dragon has become the unique belief of the Hakka people. Through the Dragon God belief, you can see that the Hakka people are romantic groups living in the heavens (the gods), the earth (the dragons), and the mountains and rivers.
Since 2020, ”Walk with the Dragon” has been officially included in the second step of the Miaoli fire dragon, becoming the dragon seven-part of the Miaoli fire: Making of Dragon, Walk with the Dragon, Dotting the Eyes of Dragon Auspicious Dragon, Greeting the Dragon, Following the Dragon, Night of Bombing the Dragon Bombing, The Ascension of the Dragon. Before the annual goal of Dotting the Eyes of Dragon, the “Hakka Dragon Altar” was set up in Miaoli City, and the “Dragon’s Retreat” ceremony was held in the form of a cultural carnival, which not only made the dragon shape on the side of the Miaoli fire more complete and Hakka. In order to make Miaoli City a “cultural dragon city”, we will further develop our cultural creativity and shape the image of “Hakka Dragon God” once a year into the world and become the patron saint of all.
3. Dotting the Eyes of the Dragon
It was an ancient Hakka custom that before the arrival of the Lantern Festival, the finished dragon must undergo, in the afternoon of January 15 (lunar calendar), a series of “opening the light and dotting the eyes” ceremony by following the ancient Hakka rites, in front of a local Earth Deity Temple. Only then can the dragon be brought to bid formal New Year greetings to each and every household. There are also dragon masters and makers who hold the eye dotting ceremony immediately upon finishing the dragon. They would set up a praying alter and burn incense every morning and evening, till the fifteenth of January, when it gets ready to venture outside to bid formal greetings.
The dotting the eyes ceremony must take place in front of a temple or a deity icon, consecration commences from the eyes, ears, nose, front to the trunk, at specific auspicious hours, otherwise the features will not be blessed with spirituality and can never reach deification. First, the principal consecration officer will preside over the ceremony, leading all present to offer incense to the gods above, praying for the smooth operation of the rituals. It will be followed by the rite of dotting the eyes of the dragon. Dotting the eyes ceremony employs the blood of crest from a male white chicken, vermillion powder, rice wine, and gold threaded red cloth as the essential accoutrements for the ceremony, each element carrying different import: blood symbolizes life, chicken, as sacrifice offering, signifies qualities of primacy, mastery, and majesty, using the male chicken crest to dot the eyes symbolizes instilling vitality and spirituality, while vermillion powder is considered, according to traditional custom, to be a sacred tool used to ward off evil and exorcise the spirits, last but not least, wine represents the motion of chi or air in our bodies, and the life-inducing force, implying good fortune and good luck.
4. Greeting the Dragon
The Hakkas believe that having the divine dragon visiting at the door is as good as having the divine gods themselves visiting their households, something that promises to bring good fortune and avert potential disasters. Consequently, the moment when they hear the sound of the fanfare approaching, the would immediately offer prayer incense to the deities and ancestors at home, burn paper money, make annunciation of the good news, and set off firecrackers to greet the approaching dragon. According to tradition, only when all the rituals of greeting the dragon are completed is the dragon team allowed to enter the gate to bid dragon’s formal greetings.
The visited households will hand out red envelope money to the visiting dragon team as a token of thanking their endeavors, as for the amount of money dispensed, it all depends on the origins of the dragon, the size of the team, and the skills of the dance, and will be graded accordingly. On the fifteenth of January, what is usually known as the midpoint day, the dragon team will greet each household door to door in town. The next two days will see the dragon team visiting outside the township. In the past as often was the case, two teams might bump into each other visiting the same out-of-town neighborhood, and each vying for the handsome sum of red envelope, would sometimes erupt into a vigorous jockeying for a vantage position to perform the dance. The sight of two competing dragons trying to seize the dragon ball and grab the red envelope only bolstered the entertaining festive mood of the New Year celebrations.
5. Strolling with the Dragon
Not only do the Hakkas in Miaoli use the ritual of Greeting the Dragon to ward off evil and bring in good luck, they also regard the ritual as an integral part of the Lantern Festival. In earlier times when street lamps were not as popular in the villages, dragon teams mostly used torches made up of straw to light the way, greeting households door to door. Village folk would bring their lanterns with their children in two to accompany the dragon team, in the hope of absorbing some of the “dragon air” that would ensure peace and harmony. As a result, it became a popular custom folk villagers hardly ever got tired of, forging in the process the cultural practice of “strolling with the dragon.”
Strolling with the dragon (jian long, which means following the dragon in Hakka), according to Hakka custom, is considered an auspicious act which promises to bring a whole year’s good harvest by following in the footsteps of the dragon, via absorbing the “dragon air” that the heavenly beast leaves behind. Walking with the dragon also signals paving your way unhindered and unobstructed, as the dragon has trailed the blaze for its followers, thus smoothing the way for a whole year of smooth going ahead. Accordingly, village folks would gather around waiting for the occasion, which gradually gained momentum as a custom of following the dragon’s parade, developing into what we call the custom of “strolling with the dragon.” In view of broadening the participation base of such a highly diverse activity, we took the initiative to merge traditional folk custom with modern street parade and street arts, taking local communities and neighborhoods as a starting point to adopt a carnival-like artistic street parade rooted in the tradition of folk festivals. Specific spots are designated in Miaoli City to stage selected folk presentations and arts parade, in a bid to enliven the street front of the placid city, showcasing the humanistic tradition of ardent hospitality which has always distinguished the Hakkas, at the same time contouring the diverse profiles of the Hakka city and countryside alike at the festival time which are otherwise often hidden from public inspection.
6. Bombing the Dragon
The dragon bombing custom in Miaoli originally derived from the folk custom of “golden dragon pays respects,” a tradition unique to the Hakkas. It stands apart from the common dragon dance performance in that in common dragon dance practice, “fire dragon configuration,” originating from China, is usually included in the program, yet the act of bombing the dragon, is not included, something that is unique to the Hakka dragon dance. According to official version, however, bombing the dragon can also be traced to evolve from the practice of “greeting the dragon.”
While greeting the dragon, people in Miaoli would set off firecrackers, on the one hand to beckon the spirituality of the dragon to repel evil spirits and attract good fortune, on the other to heighten the sense of festivity. Furthermore, the spectacle of light and smoke, accompanied by the crackling din of the firecrackers, is viewed as the thunder, lightning, and clouds in the elements, incarnated in the surging and resurging of the resplendent dragon amidst the deafening din and shrouded cloud of smoke, as if the dragon were riding the crests of the clouds. At the same time, the dragon teammates, spurred on by the heady commotion of firecrackers, danced themselves into a frenzy, so frantic are their moves that even the onlookers on the roadside feel their vibes and enjoy the infectious mood of exuberance and felicity when they witness the perfect match of beauty and power blended in the bombing the dragon dance, undoubtedly the highlight of the New Year celebrations.
7. The Ascension of the Dragon
The Ascension of the Dragon is also known as “thanking the dragon,” which according to Hakka custom falls on the midway of the month, i.e. the fifteenth of January, lasting three days, to “greet the dragon.” In the wake of the scheduled greeting on the evening of the seventeenth, Jan, the dragon team will return to the Earth Deity Temple where the dragon has been dotted with eyes, in order to “thank gods for transforming the dragon.” On the eleventh hour of the said evening, a dragon transformation ceremony will be held, to signal a perfect ending to the successful completion of all the rituals, and bidding farewell to the divine dragon to return to its heavenly abode.
“Thanking the dragon” comes with its own set of coded rituals and process. When the dragon team returns to the Earth Deity Temple from which the dragon has originated, the dragon master will prepare the male chicken from which the crest blood for the eye dotting ceremony has been drawn, as the sacrificial animal, as a signal of consistency throughout the ceremony, and wrapping up with a benign end. When all is set for the incense alter, the whole team will be led in front to report to the gods in all their thankfulness and gratitude that they have been aided by the generous grace of the deities, so that the pilgrimage of the dragon can come to a successful conclusion. Subsequently a complete set of greeting the dragon dance will be performed in front of the temple as a token of thankfulness to the gods, and also to bid them farewell as they depart for heavens. The dragon team swerves and dances in the midst of firecrackers cracking, to express their deep-seated gratitude for the divine blessings instrumental in helping them to complete the pilgrimage and the dragon bombing rituals.