When you think Hong Kong the first thing that comes to mind is tall sky touching skyscrapers, surrounded by miles of sea. A modern city made of glass and steel; and that was the impression I had when I first visited the city back in 2012 for a short work trip. Now that I am staying in Hong Kong for a longer duration it has given me the opportunity to explore the city in a much more leisurely fashion and understand the nuances and the pace of the city much better. So, when I read about the celebration parade for the birthday of Tam Kung, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to learn a little more about the Chinese traditional celebrations. This was a chance to learn about the ancient roots of the modern world city. I present to you all the Tam Kung festival in Hong Kong.
The birthday of Tam Kung is one of the four lunar classical traditional festivals in the fourth lunar month that celebrate Hong Kong’s living culture. It’s usually celebrated in the month of April and May; this year it was celebrated on the 3rd of May. The other notable traditional festivals celebrated in Hong Kong during this time are the Tin Hau festival, Lord Buddha’s birthday and the Cheung Chau Bun festival.
Tam Kung is one of the few Chinese deities only known to Hong Kong and Macau, he is considered the patron saint of fishermen. He was a native of the Guangdong province during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368); according to popular legend, he was a young boy when he already had the powers to contain the winds and the storms making him popular among the fishermen.
Every year there is a big street festival to celebrate his birthday, fishermen and worshippers from all over Hong Kong gather in Shau Kei Wan where lion and dragon dance teams parade through the main street. Shau Kei Wan has been used by fishermen since the 18th century to moor their boats and the temple dates to the 1900’s and is the oldest temple dedicated to the deity of Tam Kung in Hong Kong.
Shau Kei Wan meaning “rice basket bay” is a settlement dating back centuries before the British occupied the island in 1841. And perhaps that is why it is so amazing to see the cultural traditions and festivals of the local Chinese people still practiced with so much gusto and fanfare. It was in 2006 that the Hong Kong tourism board started promoting this festival with much fanfare to revive the old Chinese traditional practices.
We left Wan Chai around 9.30 and reached Shau Kei Wan in about 20 minutes. The festivities had already begun, and there were people lined on both sides of the street to watch the parade. Young and old were jostling for space, with the young ones often on the shoulders of their parents.
From what I could gather local groups or clubs put up colourful dragon and lion dances or dress up as Chinese opera characters or gods along with martial arts presentations. There were quite a few old lady groups who also walked by in their colourful dresses, dancing their way through the streets. And notable was a young toddler dressed up as a chinese opera character with his mother pushing his stroller behind, just in case he got tired. Lot of the performers underneath the dragons were little kids.
I am originally from Kolkata where there is still a small Chinese immigrant community settled and a place we call China town. Growing up I have seen bits of dragon and lion dances during the Chinese New Year celebrations, but nothing so elaborate and extensive. The participation of people of all ages really brings out the importance of family and togetherness in the Chinese community. The few hours that I spent taking pictures and watching the parade was truly one of my most memorable experiences in Hong Kong.
As a tourist, I have travelled many countries and visited many monuments and scenic places. But the chance to live a culture, experience it, is truly immersing and delightful. I understood more of Chinese culture in those couple of hours than the entire month I have already spent in Hong Kong. I hope my readers through my pictures get a glimpse of what I could experience. Kudos to the Hong Kong Tourism board for promoting this festival, and hope to catch many more in the future.