Six Clan-branches’ Heavenly Holy Mother ( 六房天上聖母, Liu
Fang Tien Shang Sheng Mu) , or “Liu Fang Ma” ( 六房媽làk-pang-má2 )
for short, is a famous deity in Yunlin County ( 雲林縣). Liu Fang Ma is
not housed in a temple but in a red altar ( 紅壇âng-tuânn) prepared and
maintained by a keeper of the incense urn “luzhu” ( 爐主 lôo-tsú) who
represents his/her village for one year. e yearly “handover” celebration is
called “Guolu” ( 過爐 kuè-lôo). Each luzhu is divinely chosen by tossing jiaobei
( 筊杯 puah pue) blocks under the supervision of Liu Fang Ma. Dwellers in
the thirty-four villages in the five townships of Yunlin County － Duoliu
( 斗六) , Dounan ( 斗南) , Dapi ( 大埤) , Tuku ( 土庫) and Huwei ( 虎
尾) － are eligible. However, one can only compete for luzhu when his/her
village is on duty in the next year.
ese villages are further grouped under five shares “wugu” ( 五股go¯o-
kóo) － Dounan Gu ( 斗南股) , Tuku Gu ( 土庫股) , Wujiancuo Gu ( 五間
厝股) , Dabeishi Gu ( 大北勢股) and Guoxi Gu ( 過溪股). ese shares
take turns housing Liu Fang Ma; thus a five-year cycle is stipulated. Every
share negotiates the internal rotation sequence among its member villages.
Besides, these shares are not of the same size; the number of member villages
in each share ranges from three to fourteen. e frequency a villager can run
for luzhu varies from five times in forty years, once every fifteen years, to
once every eighty years; depending on which village he/she lives in.
Ideally, the Guolu celebration must be completed within one day. e
date was divinely chosen by Liu Fang Ma from the 10th to 16th of the fourth
lunar month. e arrangement worked when most of the participants were
farmers. Now the date is limited to a Saturday or Sunday in the same period
now that believers’ vocations are highly diversified. Tens of thousands of
people － believers, local martial artists, sojourners and pilgrimage groups －
join the Guolu celebration every year and make it one of the largest religious
festivals in Yunlin.
Researching Liu Fang Ma and the Guolu celebration is not easy.
Archive materials were poorly preserved. Fortunately, the contributors to the
book started their research since 1992; their theses and essays facilitate our
understanding of Liu Fang Ma.
In 2013, Yunlin Liu Fang Ma Guolu ( 雲林六房媽過爐) was enlisted
as an intangible cultural heritage of Yunlin County. The Cultural Affairs
Department of the Yunlin County Government ( 雲林縣政府文化處)
entrusted a basic survey project to Hsu Yu-tsuen ( 徐雨村) in 2014.3 e
Bureau of Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture ( 文化部文化資
產局) offered funding in 2015 to the appointed association for heritage
conservation, the ROC Liu Fang Ma Association ( 中華民國六房媽會).
e association invited Hsu Yu-tsuen, Tang Shu Fang ( 唐淑芳) , Lin Chiyuan
( 林啟元) and Huang Han-wei ( 黃漢偉) to collectively write a
comprehensive guide to the Liu Fang Ma belief and the Guolu celebration.
Now this book is largely based on the final report of the 2014 project, with
sections of theses or supplemental materials by co-authors.
In Chapter One is a human-geographical review of Yunlin County from
the late Ming dynasty to the end of Japanese ruling period, with a focus on
the hydraulic projects that attracted Han settlers.
Chapter Two “An Introduction to the Belief in Liu Fang Ma” reviews
archival materials, legends of origin, changes of worship sphere, coordinating
organizations, the five shares, as well as extra-five-share organizations,
temples and altars that participate in the worship. Archival materials from
the Qing are not extant; the earliest archives were published during the
Japanese ruling period, including short descriptions in general introductory
books on Taiwan folk religion or in newspaper articles. A legend from
1981 has it that Liu Fang Ma was a sister of six Lin brothers who moved to
Taiwan during the transition from the Ming to the Qing. Her name was Lin
Meiyun ( 林美雲) and her spirit was promoted to the status of Heavenly
Holy Mother. Six brothers went to six locations to form their specific clanbranches
in what is now Yunlin. ey maintained a custom of rotating Liu
Fang Ma year by year. One of the locations suffered a flood in the late Qing,
and the clan-branch relocated to the villages of Gukeng ( 古坑) and Dalin
( 大林). e branch ceased to be a share in the rotating Liu Fang Ma.
Although the legend is widespread, disagreements exist. Some Lin clan
members propose a narrative in 2012 claiming that Liu Fang Ma is actually
Meizhou Heavenly Holy Mother, a legendary figure called Lin Mo ( 林
默). The reason why Liu Fang Ma is prefixed “six clan-branches” is that
Lin Mo belonged to the sixth branch of nine brothers ( 九牧六房) in the
eightieth generation of a Lin clan in the Tang dynasty. Lin Mo was born at
the beginning of the Song dynasty (circa 960 AD) as a female member of the
eighty-sixth generation of the clan. No matter whether these various legends
are accepted or not, all these legends conform to a long tradition in Han
culture that an un-married sister could be promoted as a family god and
even a public god.
Chapter Three “Statues and Luzhus” introduces all the Liu Fang Ma
statues and the divine selection, job description and transition of Liu Fang
Ma luzhus. The statues are ranked by their ages of creation. The proper
statue “zhengjia” ( 正駕tsiànn-kà) or the Old Grandmother ( 老媽) enjoys
a legendary old age of over 360 years, thus it occupies the paramount status.
e statue travels by the request of temples or individuals hundreds of times
every year. Temples always invite Liu Fang Ma as an honored guest to their
festivals. Individuals may request Liu Fang Ma to expel malevolent spirits
or cure illnesses in their families. Due to visible damage to the statue, local
people do all they can to reduce its workload. Six subsidiary statues “fujia”
( 副駕hù-kà) were engraved in 1982 and 1992 to meet growing demand. As
a consequence, the one created in 1982 is called as Senior Subsidiary Statue
“laofujia“ ( 老副駕, láu-hù-kà). Her magical potency is considered higher
than the remaining five ones created in 1992.
e duty of a Liu Fang Ma luzhu is very heavy; therefore, the selection
takes place at 14 months before he/she formally takes on the responsibility.
e newly selected quasi-luzhu can participate in a Guolu and proceed to
prepare for the Guolu in the next year. e preparation includes constructing
a new red altar, mobilizing workers and volunteers, and planning the parade
route of Liu Fang Ma in the new on-duty share “lunzhigu” ( 輪值股lûn-títkóo)
on the Guolu day.
Chapter Four “the Guolu Ritual and the Reserved Day” discusses two
major rituals of Liu Fang Ma worship. The Guolu in the middle of the
fourth lunar month is the most important ritual for believers. In a narrow
sense, Guolu means a new luzhu takes over the statues and moves them to
his red altar. In a broad sense, Guolu entails the participation of tens of
thousands of people in the handover and the parade in the new on-duty
share. Guolu always gets started at around five in the morning of the Guolu
day. Members of the ROC Liu Fang Ma Association hold a group-worship,
recite chants for the Guolu and oversee the handover of statues and sacred
items. e parade begins at the old red altar at six or seven. It is completed
when Liu Fang Ma arrives at the new red altar around ten or eleven in the
Several special customs featured the Guolu parade. ey are “danhua”,
“danden” and “xiangdan” ( 擔花tann-hue, 擔燈tann-ting and 香擔hiunntànn;
the burdening of floral baskets, lanterns, incense urns in pairs
respectively with shoulder poles) as well as “qingqijiao” ( 請旗腳tshiánn-kîkha,
the feasts for village troupes of non-on-duty shares under the leading
flags). People perform “danhua”, “danden” and “xiangdan” to express their
requests or rewards for the merits offered by Liu Fang Ma. “Qingqijiao” is a
representation of mutual responsibility among the five shares. Every village
of the non-on-duty shares is obligated to send its own gods with sedan chairs
and marshal its martial arts troupes to join the Guolu parade. When the
village-based teams arrive at an appointed place or time, generally at 15:30,
they are invited to enjoy a feast by villages in the on-duty share. In the past,
the representatives of the host villages always guided the leading flags “tou
qi” ( 頭旗 thâu-kî) of the guest villages to the feast. ey placed these flags
upright beside the tables. Even though both sides tend to contact each other
by mobile phone now, they maintain the old usage.
Once the Guolu is completed, people return to their everyday life.
However, they can invite Liu Fang Ma to their villages or altars as an
honored guest. Some villages make it a routine annual matter. erefore, a
reserved day ”gu ding zhi” ( 固定日kòo-tīng-lít) is set. Fifty-one temples or
altars are on the list of reserved days for 2014 to 2015.
Chapter Five “Legendary Stories and Change of the Belief ” discuss
several legendary stories widely circulated and recent changes to the ritual.
We mention the original legends in Chapter Two, turn to legends related
to Liu Fang Ma statue escaping from destruction during the late Japanese
ruling period, her sedan chair passing a flooded stream during the Guolu in
1951, and many others. Although legendary stories are to leave for future
consideration, they provide a foundation for the Liu Fang Ma belief.
Recent changes of the Guolu ritual are the growing participation of
volunteers and extra-five-share organizations. The rigid boundary of five
shares seems to be blurred as the involvement from the greater society
In Chapter Six “Public Temples, Altars and Local Troupes”, we survey
the public temples, altars and local martial arts troupes of the thirty-four
villages in the five shares. The description of every village includes the
history or legend of the public gods, the festivals that Liu Fang Ma being
invited to their villages and the organizations of the martial arts troupes.
To sum up, this book provides a general introduction to the Liu Fang
Ma belief and the Guolu celebration. We co-authors appreciate all the longstanding
assistance from the local people and the academic community.
e co-authors firmly believe that plenty of interesting topics are awaiting
exploration in the cultural complex of Liu Fang Ma. We look forward to
more participation and research in the near future.