CELEBRATING the Thnee Kong Seh, or Jade Emperor God’s birthday, is not complete without sugar canes, a fact all too familiar for Penang’s Hokkien community.
The tall tropical southeast Asian grass with stout fibrous jointed stalks is a must-have during the celebrations.
During the celebrations, sugarcane stalks complete with their long leaves are arrayed at altars by Hokkien families in their homes in honour of the deity.
Local history blogger Timothy Tye said these people never forgot an incident thickly coated in legend when their ancestors in Fujian, China, were saved from a massacre by hiding in a sugarcane field on this day many centuries ago.
And since the Hokkien term for sugarcane (kam chiah) is similar to thank you (kam siah), you will find copious numbers of the long stalks everywhere.
He studied Chinese history and narrowed the year down to 1652, when Hokkien peasants near the city of Zhangzhou were caught in a crossfire between the armies of Qing and Ming.
Chew Jetty Kongsi vice-chairman Chew Teik Kiong said legend has it that their forefathers hid in the sugarcane field for the first nine days of the Chinese New Year during the battle.
“They gripped the sugarcane stalks and prayed hard to the Jade Emperor for protection.
“The soldiers could not see them and left on the ninth day, which coincided with the Jade Emperor’s birthday,” he said.
Chew said Hokkien people worldwide regarded this date as symbolic of their survival since then.