Photographs and Information about Taiwan's Culture, Nature and People by Rich Matheson

Ox-fight Array / 鬥牛陣

Oxen were traditionally highly valued for their contribution in agricultural Taiwan and most households owned one. Today oxen are becoming increasingly rare as they are usurped by tractors and other modern methods. One place where their legacy can be seen is in the Ox-fight Array. Ox-fight Arrays were traditionally seen at weddings, funerals and the most common by far these days is temple festivals.The premise is simple, two grazing oxen butt heads, their handlers intervene and come to fisticuffs themselves. In contrast to religious arrays, like Bajiajiang, Ox-fight arrays are purely an entertaining performance to create a lively atmosphere. There are several versions of this theme often dictated by the event they are performing for.The farmers begin fighting by smacking each other with their hats, then sticks then they come to blows and invariably end up on the ground wrestling. At weddings there is a randy male ox and a coy female.  The performance can be highly entertaining as the red faced actors cuss each other and the fighting can, at times, seem quite real. The ad-lib dialogue is, of course, completely Taiwanese but I suspect it is pretty basic and judging by the reaction of the audience — entertaining .Bullfight Zhentou are divided into two groups, water buffalo troupe (水牛陣) — identified by shinier blue-grey color — and Field Oxen Array (赤牛陣) which are brown. The life-sized ‘ox’ can be a pretty tacky looking affair of an awkward bamboo frame covered by cloth and a head of padded cloth or papier-mâché, but good operators can make them look surprisingly lifelike with their movements. The front operator looks through a hump in the front shoulders and, like lion dancers, the rear operator bends over in the back and follows the front’s lead.The farmers wear typical farmers clothing, whether it is ragged everyday clothing or Sunday’s best and always carry a conical hat (斗笠) and bamboo switch which are both used to vigorously beat their oxen or fellow farmer with.Ox-fight Array is a Taiwanese creation said to have originated in Dawan Village of Tainan’s Xue Jia County (台南學甲鎮的大灣庄) not long after the end of Japanese rule in 1945, thus ox fight is also called Dawan Ox (大灣牛).The photos here were taken at the 2011 Dajia Mazu festival and are of Guantian Ox-fight Array (官田鬥牛陣). Ox fight arrays are in the decline and troupe leader Yin (尹連秋) hopes to preserve the tradition with his popular 30 year old troupe.This is a Renwu ox-fight array that I came across later in the pilgrimage


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