Fishing families strive to say 'I do' the traditional way

Fishing families want to preserve their unique wedding traditions, for better or for worse

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 July, 2013, 4:05am

Wedding ceremonies in Hong Kong's fishing families have their unique traditions, but fewer people know about them as the community dwindles.

Some who grew up in the fishing community, living aboard their boats, are trying to preserve their wedding customs and rituals, such as the bride's songs, the passing of gifts and the boat-rowing parade.

Wong For-kam is one of them. The 57-year-old has been painstakingly documenting the lyrics of songs the brides sing before their wedding, and is working on recording them.

Wong, who grew up on a fishing boat, was married in the traditional way. But she said even back then, the rituals for her ceremony had already been simplified.

Many of these people who used to rely on fishing to earn a living have in recent decades changed occupations and now live on the land.

"People in our generation know only part of [the traditions]. The culture may eventually be lost," she said.

Next Monday, Wong will take part in a wedding to showcase her community's culture to the public as part of the Southern Tourism and Culture Festival.

A young couple, both of them from fishing families, will be married in a traditional ceremony at the Aberdeen Promenade.

In the past, Wong said, such weddings would play out over a four-day banquet. Relatives would gather, some rowing their boats from afar.

The bride would sing songs on several nights before the big day, with some singing till their voices grew hoarse, she recalled.

Through these "signing songs", the bride would express her anxiety about leaving her family.

"The bride may follow her husband to a different harbour, and would get to see her family only once every few months," Wong said. "So in the songs, she feels uncertain about her future."

Wong Choi-lan, 50, said the lyrics and tunes were flexible.

"I learned the signing songs from my mother and grandma … We used to row the boat over to listen when people sang these songs," she said.

On the day before the wedding, the groom and his family would bring gifts, mostly food, to the bride's family. The relatives would stand in a line according to seniority and pass the gifts over from boat to boat.

On the big day, the groom and his family would row their boats over to pick up the bride. After many fisherfolk moved to the land, they came up with a boat-rowing parade, making rowing motions with paddles as they walked to the bride's home.

Wong For-kam said dozens of relatives used to gather at a wedding, but times had changed.

"Now, people are busy. It's difficult even to have people come for a banquet," she said.