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More than Dialects: Hakka and Wai Tau

2019-02-07

More than Dialects: Hakka and Wai Tau

2019-02-07
Native dialects are the dialects which were widely-used among residents on land in Hong Kong before it was ceded to the United Kingdom, including Weitou and the mainstream Hakka dialect, as well as those that were only popular in specific areas like Tingkok dialect, Tung Ping Chau dialect, Pingpo Hakka dialect and so on. Half a century ago, the number of people in Hong Kong who mainly spoke Cantonese was less than half of the total population. The situation was particularly common in the New Territories, with the majority of the villagers communicating in Weitou and Hakka.

The origin of Weitou, which is closely related to the southward migration of the Tang clan, Man clan, Pang clan, Hau clan and Liu clan of the New Territories, can be traced back to the Northern Song Dynasty. Meanwhile, Hakka first appeared in Hong Kong in around the late Ming and the early Qing Dynasty. Within this period, the influence of the rescission of the Evacuation Edict by Qing Emperor Kangxi was the most immense, which made masses of Hakka people in Eastern Guangdong move south to plant the abandoned fields. The Hakka dialect was therefore brought to Hong Kong.

The sense of identity of a community is built up by its own dialect. Many Hakka people who have migrated overseas feel a sense of intimacy with one another like a family when they come back to join celebration activities like jiao festivals, as they speak the same dialect with the local villagers.

Nevertheless, listening to and speaking these native dialects in Hong Kong nowadays is not easy. For instance, in the Spring and Autumn Ancestral Offerings Ceremonies, which the villagers have placed great importance on, only some of the local villages can preserve the tradition of using Weitou to perform sacrificial rituals. Some villagers who are keen on learning Weitou would seize the opportunity in this rare chance to learn from the older generation on the spot, since it is very difficult to find someone whom they can talk to using the dialect in their daily life.

In former times, every female living in walled villages had to learn singing The Wedding Lament. They would be scolded if they did not know how to sing it. Not only does the song preserve a lot of words in Weitou, but it also records various aspects of the females’ lives and their mental outlook back in the old days. Even though these elements have become our precious cultural heritage, they can now only be shown in the singing voices of the elderly female villagers.

The Hakka communities have numerous folk songs as well, such as The Funeral Lament, which is sung when a family member has passed away, or songs that are sung by a man and a woman in duet when they work in the fields. All of these songs are filled with cultural connotations of the folks. However, as there is a decreasing number of people speaking Hakka, perhaps it is not an alarmist talk saying that the dialect would disappear gradually.

Producer: Gladys YEUNG

Hong Kong Heritage

  • Video
  • English
  • Culture
  • On-going
Hong Kong has inherited traditional Chinese cultures. Situating at a unique geographic position while having a special role historically, for over a century, Hong Kong has always been an important hub for Chinese people to travel abroad as well as the new home for them to settle down. People of different races and nationalities from all over the world gather in this place. Cultures, customs and skills of all kinds can be passed on, evolved and integrated as a result, and thus enabling this small city to preserve its rich cultural heritage. Following the implementation of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage which was put into effect by UNESCO, the concept of “Intangible Cultural Heritage” has been increasingly popular while the local community has been placing more emphasis on the conservation of cultural heritage.

This programme is set in Hong Kong with the aim to present the characteristics of Hong Kong’s local culture from different perspectives, so as to let the general public have a more in-depth understanding of various kinds of cultures, as well as to enhance the awareness of the society to preserve the already endangered local culture. At the same time, different cultures have taken roots in the local communities. Not only do they bring about different social meanings, but also a cohesive force to bring various types of people together. On top of that, this programme will show specifically that cultural inheritance does not merely serve as a positive force for small communities and the society as a whole, but an indispensable element for social development in a modern society as well.

Narrator: John Culkin

Broadcast Details:
This 11-episode programme will be broadcast from 26 October 2018 on RTHK TV 31 and 31A.
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