Bagong, God of Earth

The Hakka people refer to the God of Earth as "Bagong (伯公)," which in the Hakka language refers to the older brother of ones grandfather. The name given to the deity shows the Hakkas' close feelings toward the God of Earth, treating him like a member of the family. Usually there is one God of Earth temple in a village of Fujianese or Hokkien immigrants, but Bagong temples can often be seen everywhere in Hakka villages. This has something to do with the times and environment the early Hakka ancestors lived in. Where there were Hakka ancestors, there was the Bagong belief for Hakka immigrants to pray for good weather for farming and the safety of people and animals, especially in the mountainous areas where life was not easy.

(Photo: CNA)

As the Hakka sayings go, “they should not only have God of Earth statues placed in the start and end of their farm fields but also in each household.” The most common sight is that of a spot for burning incense set up under a big tree, without a figurine of the deity, but just some stones to stand in, or a statue of Bagong may be set up in the beginning of a field. In the morning or evening, Hakka farmers working in the fields would pray to Bagong for a good harvest. As a result, Bagong became a common deity of worship and a spiritual support for Hakka people in rural settlements.

The Hakka people in Taiwan attach great importance to and rely on the God of Earth. The belief in Bagong is the most important spiritual refuge for farmers. Bagong is not just a guardian angel of the people in agricultural communities, but also serves multiple functions, giving them psychological comfort and spiritual support. Among all the deities worshipped in Taiwan’s folk beliefs, Bagong is the one most closely related to people's daily life.

(A Bagong temple. Photo: CNA)

With the advent of modern society, the relationship between the Hakka people and God of Earth is no longer so close, but the Hakka people still express their respect and gratitude to Bagong through other means. For example, many Hakka villages in Taiwan hold "Bagong Happiness" ceremonies on the second day of the second month on the lunar calendar to celebrate Bagong’s birthday and express gratitude to him. This so-called "Bagong Blessing” is also known as "Food Blessing.” It is a major religious event in Hakka villages. On this day, believers gather together for a feast, worshipping Bagong and staging dramas in celebration. In this way, Hakka villagers also forge close bonds with one another.

The symbolic meaning of Bagong for villagers has transformed in diverse ways due to social changes, but what remains unchanged is the villagers’ sincere prayers and gratitude, and their genuine trust in and respect for the God of Earth.