Chinese New Year in Kuala Kurau
Chinese New Year in Malaysia is always a big festival for all Chinese people in the world. In Malaysia, the festival is especially greatly celebrated as there are living many Chinese on the island. But many villages not far from Penang are for a large part also Chinese.
This particular year I was invited to come to Kuala Kurau to enjoy the celebrations of CNY with the local Hokkien people as most of the Chinese here are Hokkien.
Their ancestors originate from the area of Xiamen in China. For the Hokkiens the most important day of CNY is tjhe 8th Day.
The 8th Day of Hokkien Chinese New Year
During the Chinese Ming Dynasty, the Hokkien (they still live in south east China (in the area of Xiamen) lost a war. They had to flee their villages. Depending on what you read the attackers were foreign troops or Han Chinese. However, the most persistent story is that the invaders were from closer by: the Cantonese.
The Hokkiens fled and hide in the sugarcane fields. The Cantonese soldiers tried to find them for day but failed. After some time the Cantonese warriors grew tired of searching the fields and returned to their own areas.
The Hokkiens returned to what was left of their houses but they themselves had been spared.
The day they came out of the sugarcane fields was, as they realised, the 9th day of the Chinese New Year. Grateful they had been spared they offered gifts to the Yu Huang, the Supreme Ruler of Heaven for their salvation.
As their homes were destroyed, they had little to offer. All that they had was sugarcane stalks which they offered. The tradition held on until modern days. Some say the tradition is the strongest in Penang. Although I have not been in Penang during the 9th Day of Chinese New Year, I was there a few days after.
Chinese New Year in Kuala Kurau
The tradition is still strong in Kuala Kurau. The night of the 8th Day of CNY was a night to remember. During the day I saw people building up their table altars in front of the houses. The table altar has at least two sugar cane stalks on both sides of the table. See the above explanation abiut the sugar can.
At exactly 12 midnight, there will be no people on the street. At 12 midnight, the Hokkiens come together at home. The father of the family will burn a huge candle in front of the altar and then takes 3 burning sticks and performs an ancient ritual: the prayer to Yu Huang, the Supreme Ruler of Heaven for good luck and fortune.
After the eldest of the family has performed the prayer, usually the mother and then the children perform the same ritual.
After prayers at the big table altar outside the house, usually prayer for the small house altars outside and inside the house will be performed.
The last part of the celebration happens in the street. Here huge amounts of little and careful prepared paper pieces will be burned. It symbolizes burning money.
Since many of the Chinese people in town are fishermen, it's not surprising many of the dishes to be offered are fish related. Even a fish made of jelly was exposed. The people know all the ins and outs of catching and preparing fish.
Around midnight it was time for the fireworks. As usual this goes with lots of firecrackers and other related noise making things.
As I am not Chinese some of the ideas behind this celebration are quite alien to me. However, the Hokkien population of Kuala Kurau is fierce in their beliefs and I love to see not only the elder people taking part in the rituals.
The younger generation is as much involved in this as the older. This way only this colorful and beautiful traditional can be brought into the next century.
It was an honor for me to be able to participate in this event.
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More photos of the Chinese New Year in Kuala Kurau
In 2007 I visited the Hokkien population of Kuala Kurau. Hokkiens celebrate Chinese New Year slightly different. Here's the additional photos
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Here's the story I wrote about the day in 2007