Hakka heritage on show

Hakka heritage on show

A new tour highlights the mainland clans that started a new life in the fung shui farming haven of Lo Wai


The Hakka settlement of Lo Wai, including Tung Po Tor Monastery
The Hakka settlement of Lo Wai, including Tung Po Tor Monastery
Photos: May Tse/SCMP
Pink-walled Lo Wai Public School in Tsuen Wan was swathed in a mauve blanket of bauhinia flowers last Wednesday. During its heyday during the 1960s and 1970s, 800 noisy students from Hakka families would learn their ABCs in its minimally-furnished classrooms and master farming skills - a now-obsolete subject - in the school's gardens.

Lo Wai, meaning "old village" - one of Hong Kong's fading Hakka settlements - is featured in an iPad tour, which is the highlight of this year's Hong Kong Jockey Club Heritage x Arts x Design (H.A.D.) Walk Project, starting on December 15.

Pinky Fan Kin-yee, a tour guide with Hulu Culture, a not-for-profit group set up in 2009 to protect Hong Kong's traditional culture and heritage, helped Young Post explore the area.

Most Hakka families in Tsuen Wan are descendants of people who came from the mainland to Hong Kong more than 300 years ago. In 1662, during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Emperor Kangxi ordered coastal residents in Guangdong inland as a strategy to isolate opposing sea-based forces. After the order was lifted seven years later, many happily settled people refused to return.

Yet Hakka people, known for their flexibility, were lured by the promise of a better life. "They could have whatever abandoned plots of farmland by the shore they could find," Fan says. "It was first come, first served."

Clans with the same family name in Lo Wai follow the Hakka tradition of building houses next to each other; the longest rows indicate the most powerful clan. Their rows of houses are ordinary-looking compared to the clusters of large, round, earthen fortresses of Hakka people living in Fujian , or the walled villages in Yuen Long or Sheung Shui.

"People in Lo Wai, far from pirates and thieves, had no need to build easily defended homes," Fan says. The settlement was also larger, too; the Shek Wai Kok public housing estate was built on Hakka land.

Lo Wai's superb fung shui attracted the monk Mau Fung and he established Tung Po Tor Buddhist Monastery there, in 1933.

Mau, one of southeast Asia's most celebrated monks, was feared even by the Japanese army during the second world war. Fan says he was "formidable, yet friendly". He taught children to read, starting with Buddhist chants. "He rewarded the diligent with cash coupons to use in food stalls," she says.

The monastery's "three treasures" - a 1,000-year-old Buddha, a 360 kilogram cauldron and a huge wok - set it apart from other monasteries, nunneries and temples around the village.

"The many wooden plaques given by officials or abbots when it opened show the monastery's prominence," Fan says.

Perched on Sam Dip Tam - literally "triple stack pool" - is a boat-shaped temple, built in 1960. It is the perfect example of the all-embracing thinking of Hakka people, Fan says.

The upper deck has three statues: Guan Gong (a mortal worshipped as the god of war, used to guide the "vessel" through harsh weather); the scholarly deity Lu Dongbin in Taoism (used to fight evil spirits); and the kind-hearted Buddhist goddess Guanyin (used to calm the waves).

"The Hakka take the best from each religion and incorporate these things into their temples," Fan says.

You have only to ask and she will tell you about the 20-kilometre journey over mountains that Hakka brides, from Yuen Long, endured to marry complete strangers, the mystifying life in special shelters that spinsters and their helpers lead, and the villagers who perform traditional qilin dances at festivities.

Don't miss other HAD festival events. Students will display their artwork in the Hakka-fortress-inspired exhibition hall in Tsuen Wan Park. Locals will show foodie lovers how to make preserved vegetables and Hakka dishes using roselle flowers.

For details, go to www.huluhk.org/had2012 or www.facebook.com/HuluCultureFans

The Hulu Culture's iPad tour led by guide Pinky Fan



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