Yes, lohei may be a far less boisterous affair this year, what with being unable to yell out our favourite auspicious phrases while tossing yusheng (no thanks to COVID-19), but the practice still remains an important feature of Chinese culture in Singapore.
So important, in fact, that lohei has been added to the National Heritage Board’s (NHB) heritage list, an intangible heritage inventory established to spread awareness of and preserve cultural diversity in Singapore.
You may be pleasantly surprised to know that the crowd favourite kway chap has also made the list this time, not for being deliciously savoury but for being a staple in our country’s hawker culture.
Let’s take a closer look at the nine latest additions to NHB’s heritage list.
But First, Some Background Info
The intangible cultural heritage inventory was launched in April 2018 and currently consists of 97 cultural practices and artefacts.
One of the most well-known additions to this list would be Singapore’s hawker culture, which was famously added to Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2020, a historic first for our country.
Each addition to NHB’s list is given an entry on NHB’s website, Roots, detailing information such as its origins, associated social and cultural practices, as well as the present status of that cultural practice or artefact.
Bibliography and references are also included to satisfy those who are curious to learn about these cultures (alternatively, for frantic students rushing their research essays).
These entries are also automatically made a potential candidate for nomination to the much-revered Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity—yes, the one that hawker culture is on, in case you’ve already forgotten.
The Noteworthy Nine
Need I say more? The tossing of the salad dish consisting of raw fish, vegetables and seasoning, accompanied by the customary shouting of auspicious phrases, is an essential part of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions this year, Singaporeans had to tone down on the shouting or get creative with alternatives such as this website which plays auspicious phrases from your phone on your behalf.
A beloved hawker staple of Teochew origin consisting of rice noodles in a savoury broth and pork offal, often served with a variety of customisable side dishes.
Tempeh and Tapai, made from fermented beans and fermented rice cakes respectively, are believed to originate from Java and are widely used today in Malay and Peranakan food.
They are also used as meat substitutes for vegetarians and vegans.
Malay drums are essential in Malay performing arts—they include the kompang, hadrah, gendang, marwas, and rebana ibu, anak and asli.
Drum making and repairing had largely died out until the 1990s, when traditional Malay performing arts gained popularity. However, drum making today remains highly expensive and labour intensive, hence most drums are obtained from Indonesia and Malaysia.
These wooden signboards with carved/painted calligraphic characters typically adorn the entrances of temples, clan associations, businesses, schools and private homes. The signboards usually display the name and purpose of the space.
Unfortunately, just like many traditional crafts slowly fading away into history, the demand for Chinese signboards is seeing a steady decline, and there is also uncertainty surrounding the presence of a succeeding generation to take over the art.
An important feature of Hindu religious and cultural practices, flower garlands are often used for the purposes of worship, as well as for decorative purposes and as emblems of blessings and honour.
Demand for these flower garlands remains high, but similar to Chinese signboards, the future of garland-making in Singapore is uncertain due to the lack of successors to the craft. More and more pre-packaged garlands are being imported from overseas.
The Baha’i faith was brought from Singapore to India in 1950 and is based on the unity of mankind, as well as the oneness of God and oneness of religion.
The Nineteen Day Feast is a cultural practice unique to the faith—it is held every 19 days for the purpose of ensuring that the community remains close-knit and is always aware of members’ concerns, and it consists of both religious and social elements.
One of the most significant festivals within the Jewish community, the Passover commemorates the end of Jewish slavery in ancient Egypt.
The Passover is celebrated over a period of 8 days in Singapore. During this time, Jews visit the synagogue, reciting special prayers and reading passages from the Torah.
Zapin is one of the most popular musical and dance forms in traditional Malay performing arts. It used to be performed only by men and only at important events marking one’s rite of passage, but now it is performed on many occasions by both men and women.
Musical instruments including the gambus, rebana and accordion are used, while dance choreographies often imitate the movement of animals and nature.
To find out more about the latest addition to NHB’s heritage list, read this article. For more information on NHB’s efforts in preserving heritage and culture in Singapore, you can check out their website here.
Featured Image: Alexlky / Shutterstock.com