Fire dragon struggling to stay lit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 September, 2011, 12:00am


Organisers of the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance are battling dwindling donations and rising costs for materials, despite the 130-year-old event being declared an intangible national cultural heritage in June.

About 300 people carry a 70-metre dragon, punctured with lit incense sticks, through Tai Hang streets for three consecutive nights over the Mid-Autumn Festival period to purge the area of evil spirits. This year it will be from Sunday, starting at 7.30pm each night.

In the past, the parade relied on donations from long-time Hakka villagers. But since developers began buying up flats in the area, the number of Hakka residents has fallen.

The Tai Hang Residents' Welfare Association organises the parade, but when members practise a tradition of visiting homes to ask for donations, they are greeted with unfamiliar residents or empty flats.

The Jockey Club is sponsoring HK$19,000 of the total HK$39,000 cost this year. The Wan Chai District Council usually provides HK$10,000 for the parade, but added HK$1,000 this year due to rising costs. The remainder of the funds came from donations.

A council spokeswoman said it set aside more money than usual for the parade, because of its heritage status in Hong Kong.

An association spokeswoman said the cost of materials went up by 20 per cent this year. 'The price of materials was exceptionally high this year due to inflation,' she said.

While a lot of Hakka residents have moved away from the area, many return each year as volunteers to help with the parade, since it has to have former Hakka villagers or current Tai Hang residents. Some former Hakka villagers return from as far away as New Zealand to take part.

'We must pass on this tradition from one generation to the next,' said Chan Tak-fai, fire dragon commander-in-chief, who has participated since the 1950s. The 65-year-old said he hoped the next commander-in-chief would 'tirelessly serve the dragon'.

To keep with tradition, he or she should also be of Hakka descent.

This year, after the dragon makes its tour around Tai Hang on the second night, it will move to Victoria Park where it will be relit and a show will be put on for the public. This time, organisers will be able to use two hard-court soccer areas.

On Tuesday, the Jockey Club and the Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage led a workshop on the fire dragon for 150 members of the public and Form Three pupils from Po Leung Kuk Centenary Li Shiu Chung Memorial College in Tuen Mun. They were shown how the dragon is created from wire and straw.

The pupils are working on a project on intangible cultural heritage in Hong Kong for their English class.

Marko Mak Man-ho, 14, was impressed with commander-in-chief, Chan. 'It's rare to find someone so dedicated to a cause for so many years.'