In the tiny village of Cha Kwo Ling, incense smoke and confetti fills the sky as dancing lions, kylins and dragons bow to Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea and the patron saint of fishermen.
Every year, on the 23rd day of the third lunar month, various districts hold celebrations to celebrate her birthday, an important day for many in Hong Kong.
The most well-known celebrations are those in Yuen Long in the New Territories, and the Joss House Bay temple in Sai Kung. But in Cha Kwo Ling, a Kowloon village of mostly squatters’ huts which sits beside a four-lane highway near Yau Tong, the villagers are very proud of their Tin Hau Temple. It was built with granite from the nearby quarry.
According to legend, Tin Hau, also known as Mazu, was a woman born around 1,000 years ago to a fishing family named Lin in Fujian province. She was said to be skilled at fortune telling, and one story goes that she slipped into a trance and projected herself out to sea to save her father and brothers who were caught in a storm.
The keeper of Cha Kwo Ling’s Tin Hau temple told HKFP that the festival served three purposes: to celebrate Tin Hau’s birthday, to give her thanks, and to ask for her blessing.
The festival is so important to villagers that they would chip in money every year to fund the celebrations. According to Law Ma-sing, one of the village’s organisers, just the parade alone would cost about HK$100,000. This year’s parade was organised at short notice, but they managed to hire a team of dragon dancers and also a pipe band to feature in the parade.
Lion dance troupes from local villages also attend the celebration at the temple, the closest one to them in the area.
According to the keeper, the temple has a feature that not all temples have – Tin Hau’s sleeping chamber, where devotees can touch the Dragon Bed for HK$18 a pop. The act is believed to bring the person who touches it children, and can also bring peace, prosperity or luck.
“It’s like a little girl touching her mother’s knee to ask her to show her love,” the keeper said.
As Cha Kwo Ling was a village of miners, who worked at a nearby stone quarry, another feature of the temple is a side hall housing Lo Pan, the patron saint of Chinese builders and contractors. Villagers also celebrate Lo Pan’s birthday on the 13th day of the 6th month of the lunar year, but the celebration is smaller than the Tin Hau festival.
Stephanie Chen, a village resident, said: “Tin Hau festival is very simple – it’s to wish for good weather.”
She said she did not wish for anything in particular, “just for peace.”
Mr. Cheung, a resident at nearby Ping Tin estate in his 70s, fondly recalled the days when the fishermen would visit the temple by boat, bringing the vessels close to the beach and walking onshore to pay their respects to Tin Hau.
After the area in front of the temple was reclaimed in the 1970s, a highway was built in front of it and people came on foot.
Cheung, who was born to a family of fishermen who lived on a boat, said they would often visit the Cha Kwo Ling temple on the day of the festival.
He recalled an old tradition where locals would attach firecrackers to large floral wreaths made with paper known as fa pau and fire them into the air. The young people from different villages would then clamour to catch the biggest pieces.
“They would sometimes get into fights and even end up in the sea,” he said.
He said his favourite part of the festival was watching the lion and dragon dances.
“There used to be a lot more festivities, they would celebrate until four or five in the afternoon. Now there are less. The older people don’t do it anymore, they are retired, and the young ones can’t be bothered.”
Cha Kwo Ling’s Law said he hoped that, by simply continuing to organise the festival every year, the young people in the village will be able to inherit the tradition.
“Like the way my father did it for me to see, and now I’m doing it for my son to see. Hopefully it will continue.”
“There are always some who are interested,” he said, pointing at some young villagers who took part in the performances. “Some like to play video games and look at their phones, but there are always some who like to do this kind of thing.”