Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lion Dances & Traditions

It's quite amazing when I come to think of it, but I haven't been checking on my blog for over a week! Since the Chinese New Year Eve, I've been having sleepless nights at the mahjong table. And I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I've been neglecting my marathon training. Last week, I only did a 20km run on Monday morning, and a 28km on Sunday morning—nothing in between! Lots of junkfood and high calorie soft drinks which eventually added back 3lbs around my waistline!

This morning I saw mom off at the airport, after almost 3 months since she arrived last December. She's got a very long journey ahead—over 3 hours' flight to Hong Kong, and then after a 45-minute break, another 14 hours to Vancouver. There is, of course, more to tell after the typhoon has passed. But that deserves a post of its own. As for now, suffice to say that my nieces, Mona and Isha, had mistaken mom's panties for a parachute. To be quite honest, I did not find that funny in the least when I heard it for the first time at the dining table at Bridget's. But it just so happened that during the mahjong break when I was mung, I decided to have a quick shower. And there, in the bathroom, was mom's panties, occupying almost the entire width of the towel railing. I know it's silly, but I struggled like hell to suppress my laughter in the bathroom alone. More on the family affairs later.

Now each year, during the Chinese New Year celebration, we have quite a number of associations performing the lion dances. They usually go from door to door throughout the city in the hope of collecting angpows. I'm not sure how much money they can make during the 2 weeks period between the New Year day and Chap Goh Mei, but judging from the number of lion dancers around, I dare say it must be a very lucrative business!

These days I'm no longer keen to watch the lion dances, especially those going from door to door. But occasionally there are specially ordered performances. These latter ones are more interesting because there're more acrobatic stunts included in the performances—for a higher price, of course. Usually, there will be a lion dance competition amongst the many associations at the close of the celebration on Chap Goh Mei.

Lion dances are of course a Chinese tradition. I'm sure there's a history behind it. I've heard of several versions from old folks, but I can't say which is the correct one.

It's quite amazing to see these people actually jumping and balancing on tall poles with all those acrobatic movements. One wrong step might end up with a broken leg or neck, so it's not something anyone can perform. In fact, because it's so dangerous, it was recently reported that one would have to go through several years' training before actually doing these dangerous stunts.

Because of the risk of injury, most Chinse folks in their right mind would not encourage their children to learn the lion dance. And over the years, it gradually became clear that hardly any Chinese would perform the lion dance! The funny thing is that although the lion dance is actually a Chinese tradition, these days only the bumiputras would perform it. Because of the lucrative side of it, these days one can only see the Kadazans, Bajaus and Suluks performing the lion dance. But if one is lucky, perhaps he might be able to spot a Chinese kid in the crowd. But that in itself is very, very unlikely.

That, then, is the scenario in Kota Kinabalu City as far as the lion dance is concerned. I'm not very sure what's the situation like in the other cities and towns in Sabah, but I think things aren't very different there. I suppose one is still able to see some Chinese youngsters performing the lion dances in West Malaysia. Maybe tradition is still holding steady there. In Sabah, lion dance is all about business these days and hardly about customs and tradition.


Tekko said...

It is the same in Singapore. The lion dance troupes are getting multi-racial. There are Indian and a fair number of Malays!

Anonymous said...

I just came back with my family after spending CNY with relatives in K.L. and during our time there, we came across a few lion dance troupes performing in shopping complexes (Low Yat Plaza & Sungei Wang)or going from shop to shops after a performance.

Unlike KK and Singapore, all or majority of the lion dancers and troupe members are chinese . One can see 1 or 2 indian amongst them but it is considered quite rare to find any malays at all!

Socrates29 said...

Sorry, the earlier message under "Anonymous" was supposed to be from me, Socrates29.

scute said...

In every troupe, there is sure to be a Chinese around. It would not be difficult to spot them for they will have a sling bag across their shoulder and stuffing envelopes into it all the time.

Cornelius said...

Ah! Tekko, that's quite interesting to know! Who knows, maybe by the next generation, lion dance will become more of an Indian or Malay thing, huh?

I'm sure by then we in Malaysia will start debating to claim right to the tradition of the lion dance. We are good with that sort of thing, if you know what I mean.

Cornelius said...


Welcome back to KK, my friend! If only holidays can be longer, huh?

Yes, I would imagine that we still have Chinese people performing the lion dances in the west. Dunno how long that would be the case though. I think the fully non-chinese lion dance is unique to Sabah. Perhaps some of my Sarawakian readers would like to share about their lion dances too?

Cornelius said...


Well of course the manager is ALWAYS a Chinese! Am talking about the LION DANCERS, not the MONEY COLLECTOR!... HAHAHA!

Tekko said...

I don't think you will ever see Malays in M'sia in a lion dance troupe. Some 'people' will cry father cry mother' and said it is haraam and ban the whole thing

Cornelius said...

Yes, of course there is that too, Tekko. And by then perhaps we will see lots of lion heads left here and there, and I will be the first to laugh my head off!