HOKKIENS thronged the morning markets in Klang over the weekend to buy sugar canes to prepare for the celebration of the Jade Emperor’s birthday (Thian-nee Kong Seh). The celebration begins tonight after 11pm and continues into the early hours of tomorrow, the ninth day of the lunar new year.
One of the most important celebrations in Chinese culture, the Jade Emperor’s birthday is touted as grander than the first day of the Chinese New Year as it is like a thanksgiving celebration. More-over, it also marks the New Year for the Hokkien community.
Klang Hokkien Association Culture Committee chief Shi Lee Meng, 60, said sugar canes were an integral part of the thanksgiving prayers and seeking blessings for the year ahead.
“Sugar cane (kam chia) in the Hokkien dialect sounds like thank you (kam siah) and it is auspicious. A pair of sugar cane is a must when celebratingThian-nee Kong Seh. It will be propped up or leaned against the gate of the main entrance to the house. The sugar cane leaves are burnt along with the yellow paper (kim jua) which is burnt with the paper replica of Thian-nee Kong’s heavenly house,” he added.
According to ancient folklore, people of the Hokkien province in China were under bondage to demonic forces and didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate new year for a long time until one year, on the eighth day of the lunar new year, when the Jade Emperor of Heaven came at midnight and liberated them.
During the cosmic battle between the Jade Emperor and the demonic forces, the Hokkien people hid in the sugar cane plantations.
Following the victory over the demons and their liberation, the Hokkien people came out to celebrate the new year for the first time, thus the thanksgiving.
Shi said the people wanted to give thanks to the Jade Emperor and also honour him on his birthday on the ninth day of the lunar new year but didn’t have anything to worship with.
“Sugar canes were used as their offering to the Jade Emperor. From that first worship ceremony, they continued with the tradition of using sugar canes to thank the Jade Emperor on the eighth night of the lunar new year,” he added.
Syarikat Perniagaan Soon Poh Sdn Bhd based in Klang, which sells prayer paraphernalia, said business was brisk.
Trader Lim Hoot Kong, 57, said some people had even requested for specially crafted “houses” that were 3m high. Owen Lee, 28, a Subang Jaya resident, said he chose to come to Klang to get the cardboard houses as it was much cheaper compared with the prices in Kuala Lumpur.
“In Kuala Lumpur, an average size replica of the house costs RM500 but in Klang it is sold at RM308 only,” he said.
Lim said apart from the heavenly house, he sells ngor siew th’ng (pink pagoda-shaped candies) as offerings to the deities.
“Despite changes, younger people still follow this tradition as a majority have a noticed a steady growth in business and improvement in things for the particular year when offerings are made to Thian-nee Kong,” he said.
A life as hard but as sweet as sugarcane
I wish all Hokkiens a Happy New Year. Huat All the way this year!