GEORGE TOWN: When newborns get through the first month of their lives, it is cause for celebration.
“Now, parents give restaurant gift vouchers to friends and relatives as a way to celebrate, but long ago, we took our time to make something special,” said Penang Hainan Association secretary Tan Heng Kee.
That special something, for the Hainanese, is a sweetmeat called Art Bhua in that dialect.
And Tan and his association members showed thousands of visitors to George Town Heritage Celebrations (GTHC) 2019 how to do it.
After boiling the round pieces of sticky rice cakes, they are then thickly coated in desiccated coconut, crushed groundnuts, sesame seeds, molasses and sugar.
Gooey and slightly crunchy, sweet and savoury, they make thousands of Art Bhua for visitors to try and even invited those who are curious to join them in the process of making more for everyone.
“It’s not hard to make, but it takes time.
“And people today always say they have no time,” Tan lamented.
He said it was impossible to find Art Bhua in any shop, and the association only makes it three times a year: for the heritage celebrations, during Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival events.
“If we don’t do this, it will be forgotten.
“By doing it at this festival we make sure the younger generation will learn it,” he added.
The association was among many who set up 22 community workshops along several roads closed for the GTHC.
Among them, the Acheen Street Mosque Heritage Body showcased a Malay wedding complete with kompang and silat performances.
The Penang Muslim League demonstrated an Indian-Muslim pre-wedding ritual that could be understood as a bridal shower in the West.
Guests enjoyed a feast while the bride sat on a formal couch and underwent many customs, including having her hands and feet painted with henna.
Besides matrimonial traditions, the workshops also showed visitors how birthdays were celebrated and how different cultures rejoiced in their children’s coming of age.
There were workshops to show customs not common to Penang and even Malaysia.
The Malaysian-German Society demonstrated the Einschulung, in which parents celebrate the first day of their children starting school life.
They make a conical bag called Schultute and fill it with treats, toys and stationery for the kids to bring to school.
The Malaysian-Japanese Society showed how Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Day, is celebrated in the land of the rising sun.
Even the Penang Siamese Association highlighted a wedding tradition call Rod Nam Sang, in which wedding couples are joined with flower garlands and blessed by well-wishers.
Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, who was accompanied by several state assemblymen, dropped by at the event and spent over an hour exploring the streets and visiting the community workshops.
George Town World Heritage Incorporated general manager Dr Ang Ming Chee said this year’s celebration highlighted the rituals and festive events of local communities, whose peaceful co-existence is a significant trait of George Town’s multicultural heritage.
“It is also part of our community empowerment strategies for sustainable heritage tourism and to enhance the ownership of the local people for the heritage site,” she said.
Penang celebrates George Town’s inscription as a Unesco World Heritage Site for the 11th year today, which grants Penangites a state holiday.
The celebrations continue today with Chow flagging off a heritage fun walk in the morning and tourists taking part in organised excursions to some of the enclave’s best preserved heritage sites.