Projects to buoy village's cultural heritage sinking

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 October, 2005, 12:00am

The 'Venice of Hong Kong' is disappearing in a cultural sense despite government efforts.

Tai O was inhabited by Tanka people, one of the earliest groups of immigrants in Hong Kong, more than 200 years ago. Fishing and salt production has been their major source of income. It became a domestic tradition for villagers to produce salted foodstuffs including salted fish, salted squid, shrimp cakes, shrimp paste and preserved vegetables and egg yolks. Such goods came to be regarded as the signature of Tai O.

However, since the 1970s fishing has been increasingly unpopular among young people, who are better educated than previous generations and prefer to work in the city.

In an attempt to revitalise the village economy, a $260 million sheltered boat anchorage has been built. Disused salt pans have been planted with mangroves and a 130-metre promenade has been built.

The project has been hailed by the government as 'integrating protection of the ecosystem, preservation of cultural heritage and promotion of tourism'.

But Loy Ho, founder of community newspaper Lantau Post, said although the project was well intended it actually did more harm than good.

'The location of the anchorage is strategically wrong because the water there is too shallow,' Ms Ho said. 'Architecturally, the project is totally irrelevant to the village setting of Tai O in terms of materials and style.'

The stilt houses, the signature architecture of Tai O, have been ignored, Ms Ho noted. Some of the houses burnt down in 2000 and have not been rebuilt. The rest are deteriorating.

'There needs to be more open dialogue on the development of Lantau.'