ILLUSTRATION: The Art of Making of Incense Sticks in Taiwan

 ILLUSTRATION: The Art of Making of Incense Sticks in Taiwan
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How are the religious incense sticks made?

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In July, an Environment Protection Administration (EPA) initiative to reduce the use of incense and “ghost money” to minimize airborne pollutants has given rise to Internet rumors that the government plans to draft a new "religious associations act" and phase out the practice of burning incense.

As rumors spread that the government may ban the burning of incense, thousands of temple representatives and worshipers took to the streets, surrounding the Presidential Office in Taipei on July 23 to vent their dissatisfaction.

Lin Mao-hsien (林茂賢), an associate professor of Taiwanese languages and literature at National Taichung University of Education who specializes in folklore research, says “Through the rituals, people pray for good fortune and inner peace,” and “without doing so, people will feel unable to connect with the gods.”

Improving the quality of incense and ghost money so that they can be sold for better prices could be one solution to keeping the temple culture alive while promoting environmental protection, Lin suggested.

Whether to ban the incense sticks or not is for political debate but the making of these religious symbols is an art of its own, worthy of attention - from fragrant oils to spice powder, The News Lens walkthroughs the essential steps with these illustrations.

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Step 1: Dip bamboo sticks

Leave 10-12 cm of space at the end of the bamboo stick creating the “feet.” Hold on to the “feet” as you submerge the stick in fragrant oils to create a base for the adhesive powder.

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Step 2: Apply adhesive powder

Apply the adhesive powder (made from the Phoebe nanmu tree) on the soaked bamboo sticks. Steps 1 and 2 combined are known as the “priming” steps.

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Step 3: Soak in water

The adhesive powder, activated by water, must be coated evenly around the stick to create a level base for the spice powder.

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Step 4: Apply spice powder

Fan out the bamboo sticks like a bouquet of flowers and evenly apply the spice powder. Make sure each branch is coated with powder. Evenly distribute the powder by rotating the bouquet clockwise, alternating it between your left and right hands. Shake off any excess powder.

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Step 5: Dry incense sticks

Evenly stagger the powdered sticks on a rack that allows for ventilation. Set out in the sun until the sticks are around 70 percent dry.

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Step 6: Dye “feet” of incense sticks

Dip the “feet” or the 10-12 cm of space at the end of the stick, in red dye.

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Step 7: Dry incense sticks completely

Return the incense sticks back to the drying rack and leave them out in the sun until completely dry.

Editor: Olivia Yang