Boat parade honouring Goddess Mazu showcases cultural harmony, draws crowds to Kuching Waterfront

Decorated boats gliding on Sarawak River in front of Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) Complex on May 1, 2024.

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, May 1: The vibrant inaugural Borneo Mazu Cultural Festival honoured the revered Goddess of the Sea with a colourful boat procession that drew thousands of devotees and visitors to Kuching Waterfront tonight.

This cultural event transcended ethnic boundaries, with not only the Chinese community but also Malay and Dayak communities participating.


Performers wearing traditional attire gracefully showcased the Iban and Bidayuh ‘ngajat’ dances aboard a vessel, accompanied by the rhythmic beats of the kompang (Malay traditional hand drum) on another vessel and the joyous movements of Chinese lion dancers to the resonant sounds of drums and cymbals.

Twenty-six decorated river vessels, embellished with dragons, flags and vibrant lighting glided down the serene Sarawak River, capturing the attention of onlookers who eagerly snapped photographs with their smartphones.

A decorated boat sailing along the river along the Kuching Waterfront in conjunction with the Borneo Mazu Cultural Festival on May 1, 2024.
Boats parading past the Ibu Pertiwiku flagpole on the riverbank near Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) Complex during the Borneo Mazu Cultural Festival on May 1, 2024.

As the evening progressed, the Darul Hana musical fountain show illuminated the night sky, complemented by a dazzling display of fireworks from afar, leaving spectators awestruck.

According to ancient tradition, Goddess Mazu’s birthday falls on the 23rd day of the third month in the Chinese Lunar calendar, coinciding with May 1 this year.

Mazu, considered a semi-historical figure, was a formidable shamaness purported to have lived during the 10th century on Meizhou Island, just off the southeast coast of China.

Various Taoist narratives recount her extraordinary abilities to foresee the future, heal the sick, and manifest in visions. According to legend, she ascended to the heavens in a radiant beam of light after her brother was lost at sea, and through the ensuing centuries, she became revered as a guardian of fisherfolk and sailors.

Performers in traditional attire showcasing the ‘ngajat’ dance aboard a vessel as it sails along the Sarawak River during the Borneo Mazu Cultural Festival on May 1, 2024.
Crowds gathering at Kuching Waterfront to witness the boat parade as part of the Borneo Mazu Cultural Festival on May 1, 2024.

She is widely worshipped along the coastal regions of China and Southeast Asia, where she is referred to varyingly as ‘mazupo’ (grandmother), ‘tianhou’ (empress of heaven), ‘tianfei’ (heavenly princess) and ‘tianshang shengmu’ (heavenly holy mother).

Meanwhile, celebrations for Mazu’s birthday have been held since last Saturday (April 27) in Kuching, featuring various activities including prayer rituals, cultural performances, band and dance performances, singing, red packet lucky draw, Sichuan opera face-changing performance, and the thunderous 24 festive drums.

Earlier in the day, Mazu’s symbolic journey began as a statue of the deity was carried on a boat from Ang Cheng Ho jetty to Qing Shan Yen Temple, where believers and pilgrims gathered to pay homage through prayer ceremonies, incense lighting, and offerings to seek blessings, auspiciousness, and prosperity. — DayakDaily

One of the decorated boats during the Borneo Mazu Cultural Festival at Kuching Waterfront on May 1, 2024.