Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hakka cultural heritage diluted even as leaders urge continuity

Hakka leaders of the present generation throughout the world voice strong support for Hakka cultural heritage. However, how could these statements be translated into concrete action could not be determined. As far as the Lee family of Singapore is concerned, their Hakka descent is ambivalent.
The Lee family being peranakans spoke Malay and English at home. They may retain some Chinese core values such as the spirit of perseverance and diligence but it is difficult to pin it down to Hakka traits alone. Clan associations have to reinvent themselves to attract young families or else suffer the fate of dwindling membership and eventual demise.

SINGAPORE, Dec 14 — The Hakka community, a small dialect group in Singapore, has a culture that should be passed down to the younger generation, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday. Lee, a Hakka himself, gave several suggestions on how they can do so, in a speech that traced the migration of the
Hakka people and their spirit of diligence and resilience.He was speaking at the 80th anniversary dinner of the Nanyang Khek Community Guild, the umbrella group for 24 Hakka clan groups here.As a result of their indomitable nature, the Hakkas have contributed to the prosperity of their new home countries although they tended to be in the minority wherever they settled, he said. In Singapore, they produced several ministers, he noted, naming his father Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, the late Finance Minister Hon Sui Sen, former Finance Minister Richard Hu and former Cabinet minister Howe Yoon Chong.Among the younger politicians, they include Minister of State for Manpower, Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan, and MPs Josephine Teo and Lam Pin Min.PM Lee, who spoke in Chinese, urged the clan associations to help young Hakkas learn about their history and the qualities of their people.Speaking in Mandarin, he said: “The challenge today is to preserve and pass on the Hakka cultural heritage.“It is important that young
Hakkas know where their ancestors came from, what they stand for, and inherit the indomitable spirit and tenacity of their ancestors.”The community is the fourth-largest dialect group in Singapore, making up about 8 per cent of the nation’s Chinese population.

Lee urged the guild and other Hakka associations to
organise interesting activities to attract young people, and spread the word through new channels such as the Internet, in order to make the heritage come alive for the new generation.The guild should also keep up to date with the
rapidly changing world, and keep its links to China and other Hakka organisations around the world, he added.

In tracing their migration to southern China, he said the Hakkas often lived in the less fertile regions and had to eke out a living in harsh conditions.He noted that Hakka women did not bind their feet but worked hard in the fields with the men.“Consequently, they developed a resolute spirit and adaptable nature,” he said.

The Hakkas came to Singapore in the early 19th century, and ventured into areas such as Chinese medicine and
pawnbroking in later years.“A lot of pawnshops here were opened by Hakkas,” he said to laughter from the audience of more than 1,000 people at the Raffles City Convention Centre. Noting that the guild had remained a vibrant organisation for the past 80 years, Lee — who is also its honorary adviser — called on it to continue to attract young members and groom new leaders.Marketing manager Chong Wei Tien agrees as she sees the benefits of knowing and keeping her Hakka roots.“It’s like a brotherhood. When anyone needs help, the clans will offer assistance,” said the 28-year-old, whose father takes her three-year-old daughter to the clan association every week.

— The Straits Times

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