Sunday, 5 November 2017

Cheryl Hoffman | The Flow And The Fire


As readers of this blog know, I've spent roughly two weeks in Kuala Lumpur to photograph the Taoist Nine Emperor Gods Festival with particular interest in its concomitant Chinese Opera performances. The latter are presented primarily to entertain the gods and spirits, and secondarily for humans. 

I was privileged to be introduced to, and then guided through, the ritual labyrinths of the nine days long festival by Cheryl Hoffman who is not only a long time resident of Kuala Lumpur and a formidable photographer, but is also an "éminence grise" in all matters related to the religious and cultural DNA of Malaysia. 

Although Cheryl's website provides fascinating galleries of her photographs made during various festivals (including an "almost" official guide to the Nine Emperor Gods festival), I thought I'd feature her most recent audio slideshow The Flow And The Fire which she describes as "...on the eve of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, space is transformed by the merging energies of yin and yang and the power of ritual belief."

I can sense my readers asking for a short summary of this festival, so here it is. The Nine Emperor Gods festival is a 9 day Taoist celebration beginning on the eve the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. It's believed that the festival helps balance the cosmic forces every year, and rejuvenate human life.

The Nine Emperor Gods are in the nine stars that make up the constellation known as the Big Dipper. The Emperors are believed to control the movements of the planets and coordinate the life and death of human beings. It is also believed that worshipping at the festival will prolong life and provide absolution from sins and unpaid debts.

In a nutshell, there are three main events during the festival; the welcoming ritual which includes a street procession, traditional music and spirit mediums with swords followed by ceremonial sedan chairs. Next there's the trance rituals which are performed in the streets near the temple (in Ampang) to purify the environment...and this is followed on the last day of the festival by the sending off ceremony which sees the Emperor Gods dispatched in a small boat.

By the way, I was struck by the similarity between the Taoist Dǒumǔ (Mother of the Dipper) and the Vietnamese Đạo Mẫu (mother goddess) whose cult I documented in my recent photo book.