Dragon dance burns brighter

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 September, 2011, 12:00am


For 130 years, the fire dragon dance has coiled through the streets in Tai Hang, leaving a trail of blessings in its wake. Once lined with Hakka village houses, modern housing has taken their place, leaving little room for its Hakka roots.

But in June Unesco declared the fire dragon dance an intangible national cultural heritage and the performance yesterday, the first of the three-day Fire Dragon Dance, marked a historic moment.

Yuen Kwai-sum, 55, has been lifting the dragon head for two decades, and was ecstatic about the festival's new cultural status.

'The number of people involved has gone up by half, so have the spectators. We are so happy,' he said.

Yuen has no doubt about the dragon's healing power. 'During Sars, I kid you not, after we sent nine fire dragons out to the different districts - Sars was gone,' he said. 'Keep a strand of the dragon's beard on you for one year, and no illnesses can touch you.'

Legend has it that in 1880, the fire dragon dance cured the Hakka village of its plague. The type of grass used is known to have a therapeutic effect. The plague left the village after the dance and has continued as a tradition. Free of the plague now, the fire dragon purges Tai Hang of 'uncleanliness' - or evil spirits - and at the end of the parade on the last day, the dragon head is tossed into the Causeway Bay harbour as a ceremonial send-off.

The dance yesterday began at 7.30pm and involved 300 volunteers.

They took turns lifting the dragon, with the strongest manning the head and tail. Others played percussion instruments and the young carried lanterns to accompany the dragon.

The 67-metre dragon coils through the streets of Tai Hang for three hours each night. Divided into 32 sections and supported by bamboo, the dragon is made of tightly wound aromatic bunches of 'pearl grass' perforated with 24,000 lit joss sticks, along with two pomelos to make up the eyes.

Andy Ng Yan-lai, a life-long resident of Tai Hang, was participating in the dance for the first time this year because of the new status.

'It is no longer just the culture of this area or of Hong Kong, but it's China's culture,' he said 'He said he was only strong enough to lift the head for about five minutes before passing it on to the next man.

The Mid-Autumn Festival highlight was almost snuffed out this year. The cost of materials went up by 20 per cent due to inflation, pushing the cost of running the parade up to HK$390,000.

Traditionally it has relied on local residents' donations but these are dwindling because many Hakka residents have moved away. The Jockey Club chipped in with HK$190,000 and the Wan Chai District Council HK$110,000.

What's on

Fire Dragon Dance in Tai Hang

Today: 7.30pm to 10.15pm; Tomorrow: 7.30pm to 10.30pm

Fire Dragon Dance in Victoria Park

Today 10.15pm to 11.15pm

Urban Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival

Today: 8pm to 11pm at Victoria Park

New Territories East Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival

Tomorrow: 7.30pm to 10.30pm at Sha Tin Park and Sha Tin Town Hall Plaza

Moon Fun Playground Lantern Exhibition

Until October 9: 5.30pm to 11pm at Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza

Lantern exhibition

Until September 18: 6.30pm to 11pm at West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade