Over a century ago, before the arrival of the British, rural Hong Kong was linguistically diverse. Some inhabitants spoke Hakka, fishermen living on boats communicated using their own Tanka dialects, while Yuen Long, Sha Tin and Tai Po spoke different variations of Waitau Wa – village Cantonese.

But when conservationist Chloe Lai set out for South Lantau to film a documentary about elderly Waitau Wa speakers in Shui Hau village, she became captivated by their “mountain songs,” which – if not preserved – may vanish within a generation.

Shui Hau village. Photo: Rhymes of Shui Hau trailer screenshot.

Among the villages dotted along South Lantau Road, Shui Hau village is relatively small, with a population of only several hundred. Its picturesque beach is popular with clam-diggers across Hong Kong.

Lai – better known as an urban researcher – told HKFP that she was introduced to Shui Hau after her friends from the University of Hong Kong conducted a biodiversity project in the area, and decided to extend her conservation efforts to the rural village. Along with documentary director Freddie Chan, she interviewed three elderly village women speaking Waitau Wa.

The oldest of the women is over 90, and is not an indigenous Shui Hau villager. She was married into the community from neighbouring Shek Pik village, her birthplace two kilometres to the west.

Photo: Google Maps.

“Shek Pik village no longer exists – it’s buried underneath the Shek Pik reservoir,” added Lai. Shui Hau villagers took part in building what was Hong Kong’s largest reservoir back in 1961, and their neighbours were relocated to an urban estate in Tsuen Wan.

Anthropological clues

Through assistance from the children and grandchildren of the women, Lai and her team began transcribing their “mountain songs” – popular Waitau Wa rhymes that they learnt to sing in their youth. These rhymes appear to have had both a cultural and practical significance: “Some of them are call-and-response songs between men and women – probably used as a way of flirting,” said Lai.

There have been attempts to preserve mountain songs in other parts of Hong Kong, including the release of a CD collection of rhymes from Lung Yeuk Tau village in Fanling. However, Lai observed several clues suggesting that the mountain songs sung by the three elderly women were locally-specific, and probably originated from Shui Hau – not anywhere else in the territory.

Two of the interviewees. Photo: Urban Diary via Facebook.

Lai said that some songs included descriptions of birds that only appeared in Shui Hau village in certain months of the year given their migration patterns: “This is something very geographically-specific.”

“Also, the Shui Hau women didn’t understand the mountain songs sung by the Shek Pik woman,” she added.

When screening her completed documentary for the first time, Lai also met a villager from North Lantau’s Tung Chung, who cited his local elders as saying that their own mountain songs were adapted from those of Shui Hau.

“I was very surprised to hear this, and I wanted to know how we could find out more in the future.”

The beach at Shui Hau. Photo: Urban Diary via Facebook.

Lai told HKFP that the mountain songs reflected the traditions and daily tribulations of an agricultural society. “What you can hear is a lot of family topics and inequality between males and females,” she said. “For example, a man will sing that he wants to have eight wives.”

“In our documentary trailer we featured a song about birds, but we also heard songs about agriculture – such as a bad guy stealing your crops, or a wild animal eating some of them.”

At present, Lai has only organised screenings of her documentary for visitors to Shui Hau village itself. While she intends to show the film to a wider audience in urban Hong Kong, she says she did not produce the work for profit, and thus will only be able to do so when she finds a suitable space and equipment in the future.




導演 : 陳浩倫
2017 / 香港 / 彩色 / 30 分鐘 / 廣東話對白,中英文字幕


Publié par 城市日記 Urban Diary sur mercredi 12 juillet 2017

Tales of Shui Hau

  • Date: August 5, 1pm and August 6, 12:30pm.
  • Address: Shui Hau Village Hall, South Lantau.
  • Free entry.

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.