November 19, 2010

Traditional Incense making

Incense (Joss Sticks) connects an individual in Taiwan to our spiritual gods and bonds the daily living. Incense not only has the worship meaning, but also is a person’s access to the spiritual sustenance and comfort. If you travel to Asian countries, you must see the incense burning inside and being sold outside the temples. However, how the incense is made became our curiosity and a purpose of this trip. Lugang Township (鹿港鎮), Changhua County is one of the few places in Taiwan still maintain a few traditional handmade joss sticks factories.

We did not know the exact location in Lugang which still hand makes the joss sticks. We were strolling around the small alleys near Xinan Temple (興安宮) and asked an elderly lady if she would know an incense factory nearby and she replied “no”. We were very disappointed! However, after we turned to a larger street asked a young man in front of his house, he replied “We are the one, let me show you and take you through the process!” At that time, we felt like we had won a lottery ticket!

The friendly young man (the one with the red shirt) is the son of Mr. Huang, Han Rong (photo above) who owns the “RongFang Tang Incense Shop” (榮芳堂香鋪) for 56 years. This is another family in Lugang that we found who has persisted to keep the traditional spirit. The most impressive thing to me is that the son who could have made much higher income related to his education field, chose instead to learn this hardworking, gradually disappearing skill. We also found out that the Asia Discovery Channel had visited this place and interviewed both of them!

The best sticks to make incense is the Makino Bamboo that came from Nantou County, Taiwan originally; however, they have been replaced by the ones in China.

The First step in making joss stick is to insert the sticks into the water and leave 10-12cm without touching water and this is the handheld part of the stick, named “Xiangjiao 香腳”(Incense Feet)

The second step is to mix the sticks evenly with the Nan Bark Powders (Cortex of Phoebe Zhennan). These 2 steps are the “Rendering “打底 Process.

The Third step is to insert the sticks into the water again after the Rendering process. The Nan Bark Powders will become sticky in the water which can make the spice powder adhesive in the next few steps.

The next 3 steps are “Zhan Xiang” 展香 (spreading out the joss sticks), “Lun Xiang” 掄香 (whirling and selecting the joss sticks), and “Gun Xiang” 滾香 (Turning around the joss sticks). These are the hardest part based on the skills and experience. The spice powders are sprinkled and stick on each stick. Spreading out the sticks in a fan shape, the flaw sticks can be seen and picked. Whirl and shake out the extra powder to ensure the surface smooth and firm.

The aromatic powder can be made in a variety spices. The one Mr. Huang used was made of Sandalwood, Aquilaria, and Nan Bark Powder. The whole process needs to be repeated three times to ensure a good quality. He also said that all these powders were natural herbs and they became sticky by touching the water; therefore, he hardly wears a mask.

The incense machine can speed up the process; however, it also affects the quality of the incense since the machine made needs more Nan Bark Powder and less spice powders and can’t produce them evenly. Mr. Huang said that all the best joss sticks are still the handmade ones.

The next step is to dry up the sticks in a room temperature or under the sun for 4 hours until they are 70% dry.

Then insert the incense feet into red boiled dyes. Dry them under the sun for half an hour. The whole process is complete!

Mr. Huang’s son was also gladly showing us how the “Ring Incense” 環香 was made. It looks like mosquito repellent incense, but it is not. The Ring Incense is the regular incense but can burn at least 24 hours and the joss stick only an hour. The ring Incense has become very popular because of that. The making process is less complicated than that of the joss stick since it is mainly done by a machine.

Here is the machine to make powder dough with the same spices of the joss sticks.

The dough is extruded in strips.

Next, the strip can be circulated into a ring on the plate by hand (picture on the left) or by an automatic rolling machine (the picture on the right). It is not that easy. I tried and made an uneven surface which definitely needed to be redone by a professional.

Doesn’t it look like a D.J hand on a record player?

The drying process under the sun is about 6-8 hours for the Ring Incense. After they are dried, separate the ring and the product is made!

The incense are made in a small dark room without air conditioning in a prolong process, and ring incense is done repeatedly but with less work. I asked them the sources of the buyers and if they have exported their incenses to other Asian countries. He said that the buyers are mainly local people. The export market has been taken over by lower cost machine made factories from other countries. More buyers came in to the store and interrupted our conversation with Mr. Huang’s son. I sincerely wish this traditional skill will persist and the hard workers behind the scene can be recognized. We truly thank them for their hospitality and sharing! They are the ones to carry on our spiritual lights!

Below is the video clip showing the process of “Zhan Xiang”, “Lun Xiang”, and “Gun Xiang”.

video

Below is the video clip showing how to dye the "Incense Feet".

video

Below is the video clip showing how the "Ring Incense" is made.

video

Read More

31 comments:

fufu said...

the ring incense o.O wow....but dont know why i couldnt watch the videos.... >< anyway pictures already told me thousand words besides reading the text :)

Rafael Lam said...

Very interesting incense making process!
Nice pictures and the videos let me really know how they make it!

London Caller said...

>This friendly young man is the son of Mr. Huang, Han Rong (photo above)?

Aww... suddenly I feel as if I just turned one-month old.

I like the ring coiling machine!
Maybe I should get one to make my ring noodles! Ha ha...

micki and kristen said...

@Fufu- Thanks! I am not sure the reason, perhaps to refresh your Flash Player?

@Rafael- Thanks! To discover the incense making process was one of my highlights of the trip.

@Londoncaller- Ha! I think I should add " The friendly young man (the one with the red shirt) is the son of.....
If the noodles can be made this way, that would be so cool! :)

London Caller said...

Ha ha... I see!
I thought you were being polite... ;)

Zhu said...

When I was an hippie teen in France, I loved burning incense. I still have some stick somewhere! I liked the smell and the ritual, the incense slowly burning.

I love the way you go "hunt" for subjects and pictures like two journalists! You have guts! And people seem to let you in everywhere!

shloke said...

When I think of the complexity of what they do, frankly I'm amazed. Kudos to Mr Huang and his son for keeping this tradition alive in Lugang, Taiwan.

One more thing...the smell of incense ~ must be overpowering!

micki and kristen said...

@Londoncaller- Haha, I am always polite too~~ :O)

@Zhu- Thanks! I think we were very lucky when we visited places in Taiwan. Besides the friendly people we met, we also received lots of help from people on the streets. For example, when we were looking at the maps, people stopped to ask us if we needed help finding places. We were 2 backpack travelers with no car, (we took buses and trains mainly) Mr. Huang’s son even offered his scooter for us to ride to the Thin Noodle places nearby after visiting his place. Another example I will always remember is that, during the tribe visit, the owner of the family lodging in Wutai offered us to sit in his van to go down the mountain, and his wife would ride our scooter instead to go down the mountain since it was raining very hard. Based on my experience in traveling in Taiwan, people have no hesitation in offering their help and opening their doors to us. Language can be a factor and also a barrier, but I have seen they tried to find someone who can speak the same language to help!
Ha! I think I am almost writing another post on this reply, but this just brought back my memory and I want to thank those people that touched my heart!

@Mylo- Diddo! Thanks to them continue keeping the tradition.
Regarding the smell, actually during the making process, Incenses were not smelt as strong as when they were all lit. When they are all lit, they would smell like as I was in the temple.

liefintaiwan said...

Beautiful images!

micki and kristen said...

Thanks Rick!

Jean said...

Thanks for writing up this article since I knew nothing about making incense sticks --the manul, traditional way.

micki and kristen said...

You are welcome, Jean! Same to me, did not know how the traditional incense was made until the visit..

San said...

喜歡你拍的人文照片
我想你本職是記者吧
照片都很棒

micki and kristen said...

Hi, San, 謝謝你的誇獎!我不是記者哩,不過那天我們好像真的在做記者的工作啊。對攝影有興趣,請多指教哩! :)

KT said...

I just found this, and would love to attempt it. Do you know where I could find buy the Nan Bark Powders? I live in the U.S. and can't seem to find any retailers. Thanks for any help you can give!

Micki & Kristen said...

Hi KT,

so sorry to reply your message so late. We are having problems to open our blog page since I am using Safari. We are still figuring out how to remove the warning sign from Google.... the process is frustrating...

I think you can try to search online , perhaps you have already done that. Here is the Chinese characters for Nan Bark Powders ( 香楠粉), hopefully this will help a little bit....

rudrakshincense said...

Padma Perfumery Works is a leading manufacturer, supplier and exporter of premium quality incense sticks & agarbatti from India. Our product catalog includes Stress Relief Aroma Sticks, Citronella Incense Sticks, Stimulation Incense Sticks, Eucalyptus Incense Sticks (Sino Relief), Incense Agarbatti (Relaxation), Sandal Agarbatti (Peace), etc

Products :

INCENSE STICKS
INCENSE STICKS EXPORTERS
INCENSE STICKS MANUFACTURERS
AGRATBATTI
AGARBATTI EXPORTERS
AGARBATTI MANUFACTURERS
RUDRAKSH INCENSE
RUDRAKSH INCENSE EXPORTERS
RUDRAKSH INCENSE MANUFACTURERS
INCENSO
INCENSO EXPORTERS
INCENSO MANUFACTURERS

For more details visit :-http://www.rudrakshincense.in

Tone Dealings said...

Hi all,
Have a nice day.
incense sticks manufacturers in madurai

rudrakshincense said...

i gone through your website its really good information, we are also using much similar PRODUCTS, You can visit us.

INCENSE STICKS EXPORTERS.

oven furnaces said...

vacuum tray dryer finds application in pharmaceuticals, bulk drug, chemicals, textiles, paints, food and other industries & mainly used in Incense stick drying. It is easy in operation and are suitable for drying granulates, powders, wet cakes and slurries. if anyone looking for a tray dryer supplier contact Cera Therm international offering an highly Qualified Tray dryers from india

Bharath darshan Bharathdarshan said...

Hi
I just read your website its really good and impressive having good information about the Joss sticks manufacturers, and we also in same category. We are one the best exporters of Joss sticks, , Incense sticks, Agarbathi, and many other Incense sticks. For more details please visit our website
http://www.bharathdarshan.co.in/

Bharath darshan A said...

Hi
I just read your website it’s really good and impressive having good information about the Incense Sticks Manufacturers & Exporters, Agarbathi Manufacturers & Exporters, and many other Incense sticks. For more details please visit our website

vijayashree S said...

I read your blog it’s really good and impressive having good information about the
Golden Nag Champa Incense,Nag Chandan Dhoop, Agarbathi Exporters In India
and many other Incense sticks. For more details please visit our website

Bharath darshan A said...

Hi
I just read your blog it’s really good and impressive having good information about the Incense Sticks Manufacturers & Exporters, Agarbathi Manufacturers & Exporters, and many other Incense sticks. For more details please visit our website

Anonymous said...

hi, i just read this and would love to come to the place. do they speak english. can u tell me the exact address

vijayashree S said...

Your blog is good and awesome to each other. I read your blog its very good and friendly, Help full for all Incense Sticks Manufacturers, Agarbathi Exporters In India, Red Nag Champa Incense

Bharath darshan A said...

Hi
I just read your blog it’s really good and impressive having good information about the Incense Sticks Manufacturers & Exporters, Agarbathi Manufacturers & Exporters, and many other Incense sticks. For more details please visit our website

vijayashree S said...

I read your blog it’s really good and impressive having good information about the
Golden Nag Champa Incense,Nag Chandan Dhoop, Agarbathi Exporters In India
and many other Incense sticks. For more details please visit our website

Vijayshreefragrance S said...

Nice information! Its useful for all. Thanks for sharing your information.
Golden Nag Champa Incense,Red Nag Champa Incense

mokshagarbatti said...

Incense sticks are in high demand across India and several other countries across the world and are used for pleasing god. This bamboo sticks is known to emit a sweet scent on burning.

mokshagarbatti said...

Incense sticks are known to be the number one choice of people when it comes to deep breathing and aromatherapy. Distinct scents can be accomplished with the aid of the incense sticks.

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails