March 17 Grave Sweeping, Taiwan

This is something that I should posted before I left Taiwan back in March. I did not get around to it then, so I will finish it and post it now before I get started on my more recent travels.

On March 17, 2013, we went to visit the Lu ancestor’s grave sites in Fengyuan, Taiwan. This was my third visit to this place. One of the odd things about this grave site (from my Western perspective) is that it is located right behind a factory. I realize that it was a grave site before the factory was built on the former rice field. Still, it is an odd juxtaposition to have a large, impressive grave site behind a factory instead of in a cemetery.

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Lu Ancestor gravesite in Fengyang

The holiday to remember and honor departed relatives is called “grave sweeping” instead of Memorial Day in Asia. It is celebrated on the first weekend in April, or about two weeks before that if you are Haka (as the Lu family is.) It involves cleaning up the grave site and bringing ceremonial offerings to honor the ancestors.  This clean up often involves sweeping, as the name of the holiday indicates.

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Harmony sweeping one of the Lu ancestor grave sites.

There is also a small stone marker honoring Tu Di Gong, the local earth spirit, near the ancestor’s graves. We left some food offerings here also.

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Tu Di Gong stone marker

There are two big grave sites at this location in Fengyang. One of them has a cross on top of the stone pavilion. I was told that this was added later, when this branch of the Lu family converted to Christianity.

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Jeff’s uncle, Harmony, and Jeff’s aunt paying their respects at the clean swept Lu ancestor grave site.

We also placed offerings in front of this stone marker. I have never been given I clear explanation of who this stone marker honors.hx30 393

There were many other relatives there from the Lu family members still in Taiwan. Some of them I knew, and many I was meeting for the first time.

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Jeff and one of his uncles discussing the Lu family tree to understand which branch of the family everyone there was descended from.

I thought that the umbrella wa cute touch! It was a hot, sunny day, so someone decided that the ancestor would appreciate the shade from the sun! Most of the food offerings on the table would be eaten later for lunch. After the ceremony, all the food offerings were taken back to the Lu House, and eaten by everyone who was at the grave sweeping

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Food offerings for the Lu ancestor. I liked the fact that they brought the entire rice cooker. It was a good practical way to keep the food inside clean.

One of the traditions is to scatter paper money around the gravesite, and to gather it up and burn it at the end of the ceremony. One of the problems with doing this was that there was a lot of dry grass next to the stone of the grave site. So the paper money fire spread and threatened to get out of control. Fortunately, someone had brought a package of bottled water, and many bottles were quickly opened and poured onto the fire to contain it!

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One of Jeff’s aunts burns paper money from the grave site.

There is a big rice field behind the grave sites, opposite the factory buildings. This is likely what surrounded the site many years ago (over 100) when the graves were placed here.

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Rice field on the other side of the Lu ancestor grave sites.

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Jeff, Ann, and Harmony at the Lu family grave site.

After lunch, we drove out to a spot in the countryside to visit another Lu ancestor grave site. We parked at the end of a road and walked up it. That is a small roadside temple that Harmony and Jeff’s uncle and aunt are walking past.

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Small roadside temple in Taiwan countryside.

We walked for a long time up this road.

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Harmony, Jeff, and his uncle walking up the road.

The road eventually became a driveway up to a farm house.

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Harmony and Ann on the farm house driveway.

From the farm house, we took a path uphill through an orange tree grove.

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Harmony on the path through the orange grove.

Finally, up near the top of the hill, among the orange trees, we arrived at the site. There were just two small stone markers. Jeff told me that these were the grave sites of the original Lu ancestors, who migrated to Taiwan from mainland China about 250 years ago. His family still owns this land, and they lease it to the farm family who maintain the house and take care of the orange tree orchard. I believe that his family will always want to keep this land  because the original ancestor graves are here. This reminded me of the many small graves that are on family land in the USA.

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Ann placing a food offering on the Lu family grave site on the hill in the orange tree grove.

There was just the five of us here; Jeff’s uncle and aunt, Harmony, Jeff, and me. The food offerings were ba wun and oranges, which we later ate for a snack. I sprinkled the paper money around the grave marker, but I did not try to gather it up and burn it afterwards.

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Lu ancestor grave with food offerings in front of it and paper money scattered around it

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Ann, Harmony, and Jeff in front of another Lu family ancestor’s grave.

This was a very interesting day in Taiwan. I learned a lot about Jeff’s family during the grave sweeping, and met some relatives in Taiwan that I had not met before.

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