Folk Customs of the Fishing Community


The Dragon Boat Festival and Lunar New Year are two very important festivals to the fishing community. On these days, fishermen take extra time off to celebrate. Dragon boat races are held for the Dragon Boat Festival. The fishing way of life was dull in the past and these races were annual highlights that took their mind off the hardship at sea. They are also great opportunities to unwind. Fishermen believe dragon boats are soulful. A good race will bring good fortune and good health for the coming year.
Religious Rituals and Ceremonies

Most fishermen have religious faith. Faced with unpredictable weather and catch, they tend to worship traditional deities, hoping that religious rituals and ceremonies would bring blessings. Shrines of many traditional deities can be found on fishing boats. The most important statue is placed on the "Main Altar" and consecrated by a Taoist priest. They belief the main altar is the most spiritual spot, while the bow of the boat is most sacred and must not be trodden on or crossed by pregnant women. When there is a funeral on a boat, neighbouring boats would cover their bows with gunny sacks or wicker baskets, and then sail away to avoid inauspiciousness or bad luck. In the old days, fishing boats always lit fire crackers before setting sail. It was a gesture to wish for good fortune. In recent years, this custom has been substituted by a worshipping ritual at the bow and incense offerings.

Tin Hau, Hung Shing and Kwum Yum are most respected by fishermen. To them, these three deities have the highest power over the sea. On the birthdays of Tin Hau, Hung Shing and Kwum Yum, fishermen gather at the temples with giant incenses. After paying homage, one of the burning incenses is put out with water and brought back to the boat. When there is danger at sea, the incense would be lit to beg the deities for salvation.
A Changing Way of Life

In the past, fishermen were reluctant to receive medical treatment in hospitals. A doctor would be asked to make "house call" on the boat. They very rarely leave the fishing boat. It is a place to live and die, and even funerals are held onboard. Fishermen are very filial to their elders and attach great importance to ancestral worship. For this reason, they prefer to lay the deceased to rest by burial. There is a designated burial ground near every fishing anchorage. For example, departed fishermen from Aberdeen are usually buried on Lamma Island and Luk Chau.

Most fishermen in Hong Kong are Cantonese who speak the Canton dialect. It is a common misconception that fishermen speak the Tanka dialect. The truth is there is no such thing as Tanka dialect. The difference between their speech and that of people on land is resulted by a lack of contact. The situation has improved after the war. As fishermen and land people had more chances to communicate, mutual understand and acceptance have developed. The prime reason is probably that the majority of fishermen have settled ashore, and this contact has eliminated past estrangement and conflicts. Moreover, many fishermen's children are now going to school ashore. This also helps them integrate into the society.

Fishermen of Aberdeen lived at sea in the past. They had vast waters to fish and catches were abundant. If not for the lack of advanced equipment and the poor consuming power Hong Kong's small fisheries market back then, they would have done much better than just making ends meet. Those were tough days for the fishing community. There was no way to improve life and children were deprived of education. Fishermen are simple, honest people working hard for a living. They are contented with what they have. In the difficult years before public housing appeared, it had never crossed their minds to settle ashore.

Later, industrial and commercial development in Hong Kong led to the decline of the traditional fishing industry. As factories sprouted up in Aberdeen, some members of the fishing community were attracted and changed profession. Meanwhile, fishing became automated with the introduction of mechanical tools. This greatly improved the economic situation of Aberdeen fishermen. The development of public housing estates also encouraged many fishermen to move ashore to seek alternative livelihoods. Some of them accepted relocation by the government. Others bought their own properties and lived on the boat during the fishing season then on land for the rest of the year. They became a unique kind of "amphibian" residents.

Today, Aberdeen is the only fishing anchorage left in the Southern District. Having said that, Aberdeen's fishing industry still plays a key role in Hong Kong.

There are many fishermen's groups in the Southern District which dedicate themselves to promoting amicability and cooperation amongst fishermen. Thanks to their efforts, fishermen are enjoying much closer relations as well as greater teamwork and solidarity.