“Chneah Hoay” is a local Chinese tradition dating back to 1844 on the 14th day of Chinese New Year. This annual ceremonial tradition was recently held on 18th February 2019, year of the pig of the twelfth Chinese zodiac sign.
The site is hidden but well known to the locals. History has it that there were three Hakka sworn brothers who were sailing to Sumatra in mid-18th century for a better life when their boat was blown off-course and landed on a small island, now known as Penang island.
“Hakka” is a group of Han Chinese people originated in the northern part of China during the Qin dynasty (221 – 206 BC) with no named geographical region. They were migrants then, having to migrate southwards of China and eventually overseas seeking better future and life in Southeast Asia and as far as India. In Malaysia, the Hakka community is very small in Penang. Most of them live on the other side of Penang island – Balik Pulau.
When the 3 Hakka sworn brothers landed on the island, two of them decided to walk on foot to explore the jungle in search for food and fertile land. The eldest among the three decided to stay and they would meet at the same spot every evening. One fateful evening, the eldest brother wasn’t there to meet. The others went searching for him and found him dead next to a large boulder where they buried him. The other two brothers eventually passed away. They were buried not far from their eldest. By then, there must be other Chinese inhabitants living there upon Francis Light arrival in 1786. Over the years, this folklore was retold over and over again to the next generation.
A Taoist temple was built around 1799 by the locals to commemorate the three brothers. The temple houses the God of Prosperity – Tua Pek Kong deity. The deity is believed to be able to forecast the state’s economy for the year by watching the flames from the burning joss sticks.
The joss sticks were torched in 3 stages to watch the intensity of the flames. The stronger the flame, the more robust is the state economy. Each flame is based on a four-months cycle. This year, it was predicted with a strong economy for the first four months from mid-February to mid-June. The next cycle from mid-June to mid-October is average with the last cycle from mid-October until the end of the pig year with a slower economy.
I am not sure if this tradition on the 14th day of Chinese New Year is practiced anywhere else. But it sure is interesting and worth preserving to share with the next generation and the next.