A bite of Teochew coming-of-age ritual

Student Geena Ang having a go at a rooster's head, alongside her schoolmate Andrea Chua, while taking part in the ancient Teochew coming-of-age ritual known as Cu Huay Hng at Chui Huay Lim Club yesterday.
Student Geena Ang having a go at a rooster's head, alongside her schoolmate Andrea Chua, while taking part in the ancient Teochew coming-of-age ritual known as Cu Huay Hng at Chui Huay Lim Club yesterday.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Students Geena Ang and Andrea Chua washed their faces in flower water, changed into red T-shirts and wooden clogs, and then went on stage in front of 300 friends, parents and community leaders - to bite on a cooked rooster's head.

It was all part of an ancient Teochew coming-of-age ritual for young people that was held at the Chui Huay Lim Club yesterday.

The two Hwa Chong International School students, both 14, were among 12 girls and 15 boys, mostly in their teens, who took part in the ceremony organised by Teochew clan association Kityang Huay Kuan.

The age-old practice, better known to Teochews as Cu Huay Hng, means "leaving the garden".

Popular among Teochew families in Singapore in the past, the practice has been forgotten over time, with many Teochews marrying Chinese of other dialect groups. It has its origins in China's Song Dynasty, dating back over 1,000 years.

"It's fun and interesting, except the rooster's head bit, which I was too afraid to do," said Geena, grand- daughter of Kityang Huay Kuan's adviser Ang Nam Teck, 79. In the end, she touched her lips on its neck.

Her schoolmate Andrea added: "I have learnt more about my own Teochew history and culture by taking part."

Others who took part included Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng's 16-year-old daughter Zo-Er, a fourth-year student at Dunman High School.

Kityang Huay Kuan youth leader Markus Tay, 44, said his clan organised the event for the first time on its premises in Geylang last year. "The response was so good, we decided to open it up to all young Teochews in the community this time," he said, adding that it will probably be held every two years from now on.

Most of the other Teochew clans and groups offered support, including Ngee Ann Kongsi, Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan, the Teochew Federation and Chui Huay Lim Club.

Kityang Huay Kuan president Ang Chee Guan, 67, said he hoped Cu Huay Hng - originally a ceremony to initiate young Teochews into adulthood when they turn 15 - would promote gratitude and other values.

Retired academic Lim Weiyi, 68, who was at the ceremony, said: "I went through the ceremony myself when I turned 15, but few families still carry out such a practice today. I am happy to see it being revived."

Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, and Finance, was the guest of honour. She said of the ceremony: "It will help kids understand the love from their parents, instil in them the need to give back to society and help bring the Teochews closer as a community."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'A bite of Teochew coming-of-age ritual'. Print Edition | Subscribe