THE George Town Heritage Celebrations 2019 in Penang allowed visitors to immerse themselves in the city’s cultural diversity and living traditions.
Themed ‘Let’s Celebrate - Rituals and Festive Events’, it saw 22 local community groups running workshops and activities in a Street Festival around the heritage zone.
Organised by George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), it marked the 11th anniversary of the city’s listing as Unesco World Heritage Site.
At the Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi, one had a microcosm of the city’s multiculturalism - a joyous Sangeet Bhangra on the grounds of a Chinese clan house.
The upbeat music and dance were put on by members of the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (Penang Branch) to highlight Maiyaan or pre-wedding customs.
Association president Hardeep Singh said they wanted to share the significance of such practices with the public, as it should not be kept within one’s community alone.
Indeed, visitors of various ethnicities were seen joining in the dance, which was a captivating sight against the illuminated clan house in the background at sunset.
Adviser Harjinder Singh added: “The Maiyaan is a happy occasion. Once the music starts, your hands and feet are sure to get moving.”
Nearby, the Badan Warisan Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh highlighted Malay wedding customs. Members were on hand to teach crowds how to play the kompang.
Among them were English tourists Mike Prescott and Liz Thorpe. They learnt of the event online, and were encouraged to visit it by staff of their hotel.
“We love the atmosphere. It’s nice to learn about all the local cultures and traditions in one place,” Prescott shared after trying out the handheld drums.
Meanwhile, French holidaymaker Alex Rigaldo was seen with sons Maxence and Louis learning about Rangoli - decorative art created with coloured rice, dry flour, sand or flower petals to bring good luck - at the station of Gujarati Samaj Penang.
“We had a lot of fun learning about all the different cultures and traditions, especially those which are lesser practised in modern times,” Alex observed.
The association also highlighted Sangeet or pre-wedding celebrations. Its president Shashikant P. Gathani said the event on Saturday was ‘unlike any other’.
“Credit must go to the organisers who left no stone unturned in making sure everything was on track and that information shared with the public was accurate.
“I’ve been to many other festivals elsewhere and they cannot match this. To have 22 organisations sharing their customs in one event is remarkable.
“It allows the public and our own members alike to broaden their horizons. When you mingle with other communities, you realise the world is such a big place, even within Penang itself,” added Shashikant.
Over at the Penang Hainan Association’s station, crowds were shown how to make Art Bhua or sticky rice cakes integral to Mua Gue or baby’s full moon celebrations.
Member Tan Chiew Lan was delighted at the opportunity to share her knowledge of the traditions, gained over a lifetime.
“We cannot let it disappear. Even within one’s own community, many of the younger generations today aren’t as keen to learn or practise it,” she pointed out.
The other communities which participated in the Street Festival included Liga Muslim Pulau Pinang, the Malaysian-German Society, Penang Hindu Association, Malaysian-Japanese Society, Penang Hokkien Association, State Chinese (Penang) Association, Nattukottai Nagarathar Heritage Society, Telugu Association of Malaysia Penang, Penang Hakka Association, Masjid Kapitan Keling Qaryah Committee and Indian Muslim Community Organisation Malaysia.
Completing the list were Wadda Gurdwara Sahib Penang, Penang Teochew Association, North Malaysia Malayali Samajam, Warisan Balik Pulau, Penang Siamese Association, Un Khuay Hoey Kuan Penang (Youth), Penang Eurasian Association, and the Kwangtung and Tengchow Association.
Besides the activities, there were also a line-up of cultural performances at the Main Stage in Armenian Park and Dance Floor in Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling.
Besides the Street Festival, the celebrations also included site excursions to seven cultural institutions around the city.
The event was organised with the endorsement of the Penang government, in cooperation with the Penang Island City Council, Penang Global Tourism and Malaysian National Commission for Unesco.