WARNING: This page contains images (self-mutilation and gore) that may be distressing to some viewers. Proceed at your own discretion.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Fireworks, guns, swords, and knives but probably not what you’re thinking

Many years ago, as a child, I remember watching a National Geographic show where people pierced, punctured, and cut their bodies and faces in what appeared to be nothing more than a self-mutilation event. In 2019, I realized after the fact that the event I saw as a child happened in Thailand and is named, oddly enough, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is the annual nine-day event celebrated by the Chinese Hokkien descendants across Phuket island for physical well-being, spiritual cleansing, merit-making, conferring good luck in the future, and ensuring prosperity and long life. The festival is also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival and features parades of the “mah song,” a “possessed” man or woman who leads the parade with body piercings.

Firewalking, body piercing, and other acts of self-mortification undertaken by participants acting as mediums of the gods have become more spectacular and daring as each year goes by. Men and women puncture their cheeks with knives, skewers, and other household items. It is believed that the Chinese gods will protect such persons from harm, with little to no blood or scarring.