Alright strangers, sorry for the absence on the blog recently! We started Orange is the New Black last week…and the rest is history. Now that we’re done, I’m back to fill y’all in on our adventures, so let’s get started, shall we?!
Back in May, Ry and I visited the HK Museum of History.
Established in 1975, the museum aims to preserve and promote the historical and cultural heritage of Hong Kong. “The Hong Kong Story” is a permanent exhibition that comprises of 8 galleries with over 4000 exhibits outlining the natural environment, folk culture and historical development of Hong Kong. The story starts from the Devonian Period 400 million years ago and concludes with the return of sovereignty of the territory to China in 1997.
Our first stop was “The Natural Environment,” a gallery comprising of two areas i.e. “Landform and Climate” and “Flora and Fauna.” We were taken through a tunnel of rocks and fossils, used to demonstrate HK’s changing landscape over the last 400 million years. These were my favourite photos; it’s such a shame that this no longer exists here.
Emerging from the tunnel, we were greeted by a forest, complete with animals and a soundtrack of birds chirping and animals roaring and grunting.
As an archaeology graduate, Ryan’s favourite gallery was “Prehistoric Hong Kong.” Archaeological evidence of human activity in HK 6000 years ago (i.e. the Neolithic period) suggests that people took shelter on sand dunes by the sea. Exhibits in this area include prehistoric artifacts of stone, pottery and bronze. Furthermore there is a beach diorama that demonstrates several activities to show how some of the artifacts on display were used, such as making fire, building houses and fashioning ornaments with stone.
The third gallery was “The Dynsasties: from the Han to the Qing,” outlining the development of Hong Kong’s increased population and advances in both culture and technology. However my personal favourite gallery was “Folk Culture in Hong Kong,” which introduced the colourful customs of four ethnic groups in Hong Kong and South China.
We were impressed to see a life-size replica of a fishing junk, where you could examine the Boat Dwellers’ living conditions and learn about their customs and beliefs. Legend has it that their ancestors were prominent clan members from Central China who took to the sea to escape war and persecution. The Boat Dwellers traditionally spent their entire lives on boats and engaged in marine-related trades such as; fishing, oyster-farming, preparing salted fish and ferrying goods and passengers. In the past, they segregated themselves from land-based people. They only went ashore to carry out major boat repairs, shop for necessities, sell their catch or dine in restaurants.
Although salt production in HK ceased a long time ago, the reconstruction of a salt field makes it possible to visualize how the Hoklo people made salt in the past. As Chinese fishing vessels were not equipped with refrigeration, unsold fish were salted and kept for sale later. Clean fish were packed into a salt-filled wooden box or barrel for 2-3 days, then rinsed and left out to dry in the sun. Nowadays, fisher-folk continue to prepare dried seafood products (e.g. squid, shrimp, seaweed) as a means of extra income.
In the centre, there are three traditional buildings which demonstrates the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month, where the Tang Clan at Kam Tin maintain their tradition of raising lanterns and holding a communal banquet to celebrate the village’s newborn sons in the past year.
A wedding ceremony has also been reconstructed. According to wedding traditions of the past, a bride must neither see the sky nor step on the ground as she is being brought to the groom’s house. As she is carried, grains were sprinkled to distract evil spirits. The bride’s arrival was greeted with an explosion of firecrackers and she must step over a basin of fire or water at the entrance threshold to deter evil spirits from following her into the groom’s house.
Here are some traditional wedding dresses.
We also came across ‘qijiepan’, which are the paper offerings for the Seven Sisters Festival. The display quijepan contained accessories such as gold and jade bangles, combs, dressing tables and fans.
Dragonboat Festival dancing.
Giant effigies of Chinese gods are erected to guard against malicious spirits in a village ‘Taiping Qingjiao’ ceremony. The gods presented differ according to the ethnic background of the villages. For example, Punti villages favour Chenghuang (the walled-city god), Baiwucheng (the spectre warden) and Dajiang (a marital god). On the other hand, Hoklo viallges prefer Tudi (the earth god) and Shanshen (the mountain god). The only common effigy is the Dashiwang, the King of Ghosts, who polices the ghosts and spirits that come to partake in the ceremonial offerings.
The most eye-catching display here is the reconstruction of the festive activities of the Paiping Qingjiao ceremony held annually in Cheung Chau! According to legend, an outbreak of plague miraculously disappeared after the islanders paraded the sacred statue of the Northern Emperor through their villages in the 19th century. Since then this ceremony, popularly known as the Bun Festival, gives thanks to the gods. During the Festival, the islanders do not slaughter livestock and only eat vegetarian meals. Taoist priests also perform rituals and conduct ceremonies.
Although we’ve been meaning to go over the last 2 years, we’ve somehow managed to miss both of them! This is the centerpiece of the festival, known as the ‘bun towers’ i.e. three giant 60-feet bamboo towers covered with buns. Historically, young men would race up the tower to get hold of the buns; the higher the bun, the better the fortune it was supposed to bring to the holder’s family. The race was known as ‘bun-snatching.’ However the ritual was abandoned by the government due to the collapse of one of the towers in 1978, injuring over 100 people. Nevertheless, the villagers’ immense urge to resume the ritual meant that it was reintroduced in 2005 with intensified safety measures.
Chinese opera is also staged to give thanks to the gods, as well as entertaining the villagers. The opera is staged in a structure known as a ‘matshed,’ a name derived from the use of palm thatch and bamboo mats in the past for the wall and roof coverings. This construction is usually erected in front of the village temple or ancestral hall, if the space is large enough.
When construction is carried out on land that has never been used for staging opera, or when a cast member has been injured during a performance, the opera troupe will perform a special religious ritual to cleanse the opera stage.
The highlight of the Festival is a colourful procession that features costumed children, who appear to balance precariously on the tips of poles (they are actually secured to hidden supports). Parents consider it a great honour for their children to be part of the parade, which is an attraction for Hong Kong people and foreign tourists alike! The procession is accompanied by dancing lions, beating gongs and drums to scare away evil spirits.
To find out what’s on Floor 2, click here 😉