Largest ever pole-climbing folk event in Hengchun
August 21, 2007, 12:00 am TWN
The 2007 Cianggu, a pole-climbing event that has been annually held during Ghost Month in the southern Taiwan township of Hengchun for over a century, will be the largest ever and will enjoy the addition of some “international flavor,” an official said Monday at a press conference.
The pole-climbing competition, in which competitors of each team have to climb barehanded up an 11-meter column heavily greased with beef tallow and snatch the “lucky flag” at the top, will be expanded from four columns to 36 columns, meaning that there will be 36 teams participating, including two teams of foreigners, said Pingtung County Magistrate Tsao Chi-hung.
The event will be held on the night of Aug. 27, the last day of a three-day festival which also includes various cultural events, such as a street dance competition, parade, and rock concert.
Cianggu is one of the most popular folk Ghost Month — the seventh lunar month — events in Taiwan, though its human origins and background have always been well represented, said Tsao, who explained that the festival was held to distribute the offerings worshippers made to ghosts to society’s homeless, poor and starving people.
In Taiwan, the annual religious event has put two small towns on the cultural map: Yilan County’s Toucheng Township in the north and Hengchun, Pingtung County in the south.
“In the past, there were some foreigners in the competition, mixing in teams with the locals, but they never competed as a separate team,” Hengchun Mayor Yeh Ming-shun said, adding that a Thai team and a mixed team of Americans, Indonesians and Japanese had registered to compete this year.
The fastest team to climb to the top of the column and snatch the lucky flag from the top platform typically places the flag at the front end of their boat, symbolizing that they will enjoy the kindly protection of ghosts through course of the year, Tsao said.
Given Hengchun’s rich history, historical sites and cultural heritage, more events have been planned for the future, Tsao said. The Pingtung County government is planning to hold an international folk song festival next year in Hengchun, where well-known late folk singer Chen Da lived.
Tsao believes the combination of the folk song festival, Cianggu and the Spring Scream, a rock festival held annually in April, will boost Hengchun’s tourism and local business as well as its cultural awareness.