Kway chap, lohei among latest additions to NHB's heritage list

The making of flower garlands, the Jewish festival Passover, and hawker dish kway chap are some items in the list that has been expanded since its launch in April 2018. PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Hawker dish kway chap, the Jewish festival Passover, and Malay dance form zapin are among the nine latest additions to the intangible cultural heritage inventory created by the National Heritage Board (NHB).

This is the third time that the list has been expanded since its launch in April 2018. It now comprises 97 - from an original 50 - practices and cultural artefacts.

The inventory is meant to raise awareness of the diverse rituals and preserve them for future generations.

It also includes the country's hawker heritage which was recently added by Unesco to its intangible global heritage list.

The other additions made last November are: the making and repairing of Malay drums; the making of Chinese signboards; the making of flower garlands; the making of tempeh and tapai; the Nineteen Day Feasts and Baha'i community life; and yusheng and lohei.

With the newest entries, a wide diversity of practices by various religious, ethnic and artisanal groups here are now enshrined on the list.

These range from niche practices like the making of joss sticks to the widely enjoyed fish head curry. Religious festivities such as the celebration of Christmas and even forms of medicine like Ayurveda, which has roots in ancient Sanskrit sources, have been included.

Among the newest entries, the Baha'i faith, which is predicated on the oneness of religion and man, is practised by only 2,000 people here.

Passover, commemorated by the Jewish community, is also limited to about 2,500 people, most of them expatriates.

The continued efforts to leave no stone unturned in compiling the list shows the NHB's continued commitment to "document Singapore's intangible cultural heritage elements and safeguard them for future generations", said Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's deputy chief executive of policy and community.

He added: "The inventory is also a key pillar of NHB's efforts to profile and recognise intangible cultural heritage practitioners."

Living heritage includes social practices, rituals and festive events, performing arts, and craftsmanship that change over time as people adapt to new environments.

It has been said, for example, that the quiet tossing of yusheng this year due to Covid-19 regulations presents an important change in lohei's practice.

Addition to the list means the practice is given an entry on NHB's website, Roots, covering its origins and expression.

The entry is topped off with bibliography and references to aid students or those who are interested in reading up on the topics.

More crucially, the heritage inventory focuses the efforts made by the NHB and its stakeholders to help some of these practices live on, at a time when many of these are not being picked up by younger practitioners.

It also makes each of them a potential candidate for a future nomination to the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Mr Yaziz Hassan, 46, the co-founder of Nadi Singapura, a Malay drum and percussion group, said there are enough players of Malay drums but not enough practitioners who make them.

He started playing drums at the age of 10. He had to learn how to make them when he was 17, as he could not afford to buy one.

Each drum takes about one to three months to make.

"The craft is appreciated among practitioners but not by the public because it's not a normal career," he said.

Madam Som Said, 70, one of Singapore's well-known dance choreographers, said Singapore's zapin is unique, despite the dance's popularity in the Malay world.

She said that with more young people taking up zapin, the dance form will naturally evolve.

"While we preserve and promote it, a tradition is not static. Zapin is now so popular that all children, youth and adults are able to dance zapin in schools, community centres and cultural organisations."

Items added to the intangible cultural heritage list

Kway Chap

Kway chap is among the nine latest additions to the list. PHOTO: ST FILE

A dish originally from the Chaoshan region in China, kway chap has become a hawker staple, comprising broad sheets of rice noodles in soup and pork offal, as well as other side dishes.

Most duck rice stalls now also sell the dish of Teochew origin, adding to it new ingredients like braised eggs and fish cake.

Making and Repairing of Malay Drums

Each Malay drum takes about one to three months to make. PHOTO: EIMBRUNT RASHID

Malay drums, which include the kompang, hadrah, and gendang, are the heartbeat of the Malay performing arts.

While the art of making and repairing them had died out, a revival in the 1990s of the Malay cultural scene here saw more people returning to the traditional craft, although it still remains a niche service.

As it is a labour-intensive and high cost enterprise, most drums used locally are sourced from craft centres in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Making of Chinese Signboards

These signboards, usually made with wooden boards and carved or painted with calligraphic characters, are hung above entrances and doors of temples, clan associations, businesses, schools and private homes.

Signboard carvers are found wherever there is a sizeable Chinese community, in China, Malaysia, and Singapore.

A hand-carved signboard takes about two to three weeks to complete. Recently, there have been fewer commissions for these boards, and the lack of successors to the craft also puts its future in question.

Making of Flower Garlands

The making of flower garlands was among other additions made last November. PHOTO: ST FILE

Hindu religious and cultural practices often make use of flowers, which are both offered to deities and used to adorn their statues or images.

As such, these garlands are sold near or in Hindu temples, with the most frequently used flowers more fragrant varieties like jasmine, rose and chrysanthemum.

While demand for them remains high, there are concerns that there may be fewer traditional garland makers here in time to come, as more pre-packed garlands are imported and fewer from the younger generation take to the handicraft.

Making of Tempeh and Tapai

The making of tempeh and tapai was among other additions made last November. PHOTO: ST FILE

Tempeh, made from fermented beans here, and tapai, fermented rice cakes, are unique to South-east Asia.

They are believed to have originated in Java and have different variations, made from different ingredients.

Both are widely used in Malay and Peranakan cuisines, as well as by vegetarians and vegans as meat substitutes.

The Nineteen Day Feast and the Baha'i Community Life

The Baha'i faith is based on the unity of mankind, the oneness of God and the oneness of religion, and was brought to Singapore from India in 1950.

One of its unique practices is the Nineteen Day Feast, which happens every 19 days and is used to make sure that the community remains tight and is kept abreast of all members' concerns.

It is usually held in the last evening of the 19-day Baha'i month, and comprises both religious prayers and a social element.

Passover, and Associated Jewish Practices and Rituals

Passover, commemorated by the Jewish community, is limited to about 2,500 people, most of them expatriates. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Passover is a Jewish tradition that commemorates the end of Israelite slavery in ancient Egypt.

In Singapore, it is celebrated over eight days, during which Jews visit the synagogue and recite special prayers and passages from the Torah.

Preparations begin at least a month before, with homes thoroughly cleaned to remove all traces of leaven, according to the belief that their ancestors, while escaping from Egypt, had to leave in haste and could not wait for their bread to rise.

As of 2019, there are about 2,500 Jews in Singapore, most of them expatriates.

Yusheng and lohei

The quiet tossing of yusheng this year due to Covid-19 regulations presents an important change in lo hei's practice. PHOTO: ST FILE

Lohei, or the tossing of yusheng - a salad dish comprising raw fish, shredded vegetables and various seasonings - for good fortune is a Chinese New Year tradition here.

It involves diners shouting auspicious phrases as each ingredient is added, although this year, Covid-19 restrictions mean it will have to take place without the shouting.


Singapore's zapin is unique, despite the dance's popularity in the Malay world. PHOTO: ESPLANADE

One of the most popular dance and musical forms in the Malay performing arts, zapin originated in Yemen and was introduced to the region in the 14th century.

While in the past it was mostly danced by men and performed only at significant rite-of-passage events, it is now performed widely by both men and women.

Often rhythmic, dance moves in zapin mimic the movement of animals and the natural world, including those of the fruit bat and trees.

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