Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Matsu (媽祖, pinyin: Māzǔ, Wade-Giles: Ma-tsu, lit. "Mother-Ancestor"), mortal name Lin Muoniang (林默娘), is the Taoist Goddess of the Sea who protects fishermen and sailors. She is extremely popular among the Taiwanese, Fujianese, and Cantonese people, who have cultures strongly linked to the sea. The Matsu Islands are named after her.
- Popular names:
- Matsu-po (媽祖婆, "Elder Lady Matsu")
- A-Ma (阿媽, "Grandmother")
- Tianshang Shengmu (天上聖母, "Heavenly Holy Mother")
- Official titles:
According to legend, Lin Muoniang (林默娘) was born in 960 (during the early Northern Song Dynasty) as the seventh daughter of Lin Yuan (林愿) on Meizhou Island, Fujian. She did not cry when she was born, and thus her given name means "Silent Girl."
There are many legends about her and the sea.
Although she started swimming relatively late at the age of 15, she soon became an excellent swimmer. She wore red standing on the shore to guide fishing boats home, even in the most dangerous and harsh weather.
According to one legend, Lin Muoniang's father and brothers were fishermen. One day, a terrible typhoon arose while they were out at sea, and the rest of her family feared that those at sea had perished. In the midst of this storm, depending on the version of the legend, she either fell into a trance while praying for the lives of her father and brothers or dreamed of her father and brothers while she was sleeping. In either the trance or the dream, her father and brothers were drowning, and she reached out to them, holding her brothers up with her hands and her father up with her mouth. However, Muoniang's mother now discovered her and tried to wake her, but Muoniang was in such a deep trance or dream that it seemed like she was dead. Muoniang's mother, already believing the rest of their family dead, now broke down, crying, believing that Muoniang had also just died. Hearing her mother's cries, in pity, Muoniang gave a small cry to let her mother know she was alive, but in opening her mouth, she was forced to drop her father. Consequently, Muoniang's brothers returned alive (sadly without their father) and told the other villagers that a miracle had happened and that they had somehow been held up in the water as a typhoon raged.
There are at least two versions of Lin Muoniang's death. In one version, she died in 987 at the age of 28, when she climbed a mountain alone and flew to heaven and became a goddess. Another version of the legend says that she died at age 16 of exhaustion after swimming far into the ocean trying to find her lost father and that her corpse later washed ashore in Nankan Island of the Matsu Islands.
Lin Muoniang (2000), a minor Fujianese TV series, is a dramatization of the life of Matsu as a mortal.
After her death, the families of many fishermen and sailors began to pray to her in honor of her acts of courage in trying to save those at sea. Her worship spread quickly. Much of her popularity in comparison to other sea deities resulted from her role as a compassionate motherly protector, completely different from authoritarian father figures like the Dragon Kings. She is usually depicted with black skin, wearing a red robe, and sitting on a grass mat.
There are about 800 to 1000 Taiwanese temples dedicated wholly, or usually, partly, to Matsu. Chaotian Temple (朝天宮) of Peikang Township (北港鎮) in Yunlin is the most popular temple of Matsu in Taiwan. Heavenly Empress Palace-Meizhou Ancestral Temple (天后宮湄洲祖廟) is on her native Meizhou Island. There is also a temple on the Pescadores Islands.
In Hong Kong, around 60 temples are dedicated, at least partially to Tin Hau. The temple in the Tin Hau area, east of Victoria Park, in Eastern district, on Hong Kong Island, has given its name to the area and to the MTR station serving it (Island Line). See Places of worship in Hong Kong for a more detailed listing.
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