Sunday, May 23, 2010

Macau: A-Ma Festival and Chinese opera at A-Ma Temple 媽閣廟

The A-Ma Festival was celebrated this year on May 6, the day we arrived in Macau. It falls on the 23rd day of the third month of the lunar calendar. We may have missed the festival day itself. But the festivities continued until May 8.

According to historical accounts, the A-Ma Temple 媽閣廟 (Temple of Barra) was said to be the point where Portuguese sailors first landed in Macau, thus starting centuries of cultural and economic exchange between China and Europe. The temple is among the historical structures inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the Historical Centre of Macao.

It is also said that the name Macau come from A-Ma Gau which means Bay of A-Ma. The main prayer hall is dedicated to the Tin Hau 天后 goddess or Matsu 媽祖, the patroness of seafarers and fishermen, a Taoist deity which the locals refer to as A-Ma. But the temple has shrines to other deities from Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism which is an exemplary representation of Chinese popular religion which integrates all three.

As part of the A-Ma Festival, there were five days of Chinese opera (May 4 to 8) in a specially-constructed bamboo shed. We were lucky to be given access to the dressing room behind the stage where the actors were silently preparing and practicing their lines. The group performing came all the way from Guandong Province. We stayed for a while to catch parts of the performance, but not too long since it was hot and humid plus we had a schedule to follow.

Outside the temple, in Barra Square, a lion dance performance was taking place which happens every Saturday afternoon of May, organized by the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO). The next morning, when we returned to the A-Ma Temple, we caught the Portuguese dance performance in Barra Square at noon, also organized by the MGTO for all the Sundays of May.

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