Taiwan’s Wang Yeh Boat Burning Festival

A night time scene where a traditional wooden boat is placed atop a pile of burning ghost paper as an offering to the Gods during the Wang Yeh Boat Burning Festival

Every three years, Taiwanese locals gather in the port town of Donggang for an eight-day festival in which a large wooden boat is set on fire to ward off disease.

Held in October or November, the burning of the Wang Yeh boat is a ritual that began during China’s Song Dynasty (960 to 1276).

Wang Yeh are guardian deities that worshippers believe can stop diseases from spreading and bestow good fortune. Belief in Wang Yeh began with a legend of a man who committed suicide in a well that held toxic water to stop villagers from drinking it.

Preparation for the event starts a year in advance with the construction of a 45-foot vessel that is painted and decorated.

On the first day of the festival, a procession leaves the Donglong Temple and heads to the beach to invite the plague-protecting gods to Earth. Before returning to and entering the temple, the boat’s bearers perform a purification ritual in which they walk over fire.

For the next six days, the wooden boat is pulled around the town to absorb all the bad spirits, disease, and misfortune. People put rice, money, and other offerings in the boat for its journey back to heaven. They also write paper messages with their hopes and wishes that will be burned along with the boat.

On the eighth day of the festival, there is a big fireworks display as the boat is taken to the beach and set on top of a mount made of tons of ghost paper — a special paper that is burned as an offering to gods and ancestors. Taoist priests perform several rituals and then at midnight, Wang Yeh is offered one last meal consisting of as many as 100 different dishes.

Thousands of spectators watch as the boat is set ablaze. As it’s consumed by flames, so too are all the bad spirits and diseases.