Ethnic Chinese devotees towed a giant replica of a royal barge on a wheeled platform through a Malaysian city on Thursday in a rare and colorful procession aimed at collecting and banishing evil spirits.
Steeped in religious and cultural rites, the Wangkang — or royal ship — procession snaked along a 9-kilometer (6-mile) route in the historic city of Malacca with 22 stops where priests performed cleansing rituals to command evil spirits and other negative influences to board the boat. It was accompanied by various floats and performers.
The Wangkang festival was brought to Malacca by Hokkien traders from China and first took place in 1854. It is only organized when mediums at the Yong Chuan Tian Temple in Malacca receive a command from the Ong Yah deities. Processions have been held in 1919, 1933, 2001, 2012 and 2021.
After Thursday’s procession, another shorter parade was held at night culminating in a send-off ceremony where the barge was set aflame so the collected spirits could symbolically sail into another realm. Organizers said the aim of the festival is to bring health, peace, prosperity and happiness to the state and the world.
Malaysia and China jointly gained UNESCO recognition of the Wangkang festival as an intangible cultural heritage in 2020. According to UNESCO, the ceremony and related practices are rooted in folk customs of worshipping Ong Yah, a deity believed to protect people and their lands from disasters.
It was developed in China’s Minnan region between the 15th and 17th centuries and is now centered in China’s coastal areas of Xiamen Bay and Quanzhou Bay as well as in Malacca.