Ramshackle to some, but a gem in historians' eyes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 November, 2002, 12:00am

Buried in Kowloon City's forest of concrete high-rises lies a cluster of ramshackle ancient houses huddled together in a corner near the area's sewage works.

Nga Tsin Wai village, the oldest and only ancient Chinese fortified village in the urban area, looks like another slum waiting to be knocked down. But the 650-year-old village is a gem in the eyes of historians. The village dates to 1352 - the end of the Song dynasty - according to stone carvings inside its Tin Hau temple.

Legend has it that the Song emperor and his entourage came to Kowloon to escape Mongolian hordes on their heels. The emperor jumped into the sea in the face of the relentless advance of Kublai Khan's army. His attendants, however, remained and founded the village.

'Most of the villagers are descendants from the same clan. I am the 28th generation,' said village head Ng Kau. 'All my ancestors lived here. They built a fortified village because they were still loyal to the Song emperor.'

Where pavements now surround it, there used to be a watchtower, moat and a drawbridge to safeguard the independence of the village, Mr Ng said.

The moat was filled in by Japanese soldiers during World War II, while the drawbridge and watchtower were dismantled to build a military airport. This was the base for Japanese fighter jets to take off and carry out air raids in Southeast Asia, Mr Ng said. Two cannons guarding the entrance of the village were buried, he said.

'I was 14 when the Japanese arrived. They pulled down our wall and filled up the moat. I was there watching helplessly. What can you do? They would kill you without a word,' he said.

What remains intact are a handful of village houses, the clan hall and the Tin Hau temple. The villagers had been fishermen by profession for centuries. Tin Hau, or the heaven goddess, is their patron deity.

Once every 10 years, normally at the end of the 10th lunar month, the Nga Tsin Wai village celebrates the Tai Ping Ching Chiu festival, when Tin Hau is thanked for guarding the village against evil spirits and pacifying the sea.

Participants enjoy puppet shows and traditional Chinese opera. Vegetarian food is served.

The first Tai Ping Ching Chiu ceremony started in 1726 and the last one was held in 1996.

Mr Ng said: 'I will stand here to celebrate the next Tai Ping Ching Chiu festival, you bet I will.'