Fears of an end to centuries-old ritual

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 December, 2006, 12:00am

Villagers of Nga Tsin Wai in Wong Tai Sin celebrated what may be their last Ta Chiu festival yesterday amid fears that redevelopment may spell the end of the centuries-old ritual.

The 600-year-old walled village marked its 29th Ta Chiu celebration in honour of the goddess of the sea with lion and dragon dances and religious rituals. The celebration is held once every 10 years.

Although only 100 people live in the rundown houses, many former residents and visitors crowded into the last walled village in an urban area to enjoy yesterday's festivities.

Leung Sik-lun, the Nga Tsin Wai villagers' representative, said the celebrations were smaller because of uncertainty over the future of the village, which has been under threat after property developer Cheung Kong (Holdings) acquired about 80 per cent of the properties about two decades ago.

Demolition moved a step closer last year after the Wong Tai Sin District Council approved the redevelopment project, reversing its decision to preserve the village as a cultural heritage site.

'We did not have sufficient time to prepare for the festival. The government could not make a decision on what to do with our village and we only decided to push on with the celebration three months ago,' Mr Leung said.

Mr Leung, 70, said he had witnessed three Ta Chiu festivals in his lifetime and did not want to see the tradition - believed to have begun during the Qing dynasty - vanish from Hong Kong.

'We hope at least some memorable establishments, such as the Tin Hau temple, the village affairs office and the arch, will be preserved,' he said. 'We also hope there will be another celebration 10 years later - a much better one too.'

But Mr Leung admitted that the government had not promised any concrete measures to preserve the centuries-old ritual.

Urban Renewal Authority managing director Billy Lam Chung-lun, said the government would keep in close contact with the owners to ensure fair treatment when deciding what to do with the village.

An Urban Renewal Authority spokesman said an open area might be set aside to provide villagers with an area to continue celebrations.