The Penang Lion dance is part of Penang Chinese Festival and Culture. It has come to signify beauty, art, tradition and culture. The vigour, beauty and rhythms of these dances have attracted lots of participation from both young and old.
Locals and visitors alike never failed to throng nearer when they heard the drums, cymbals and gongs. I watched this Lion Dance performance with delight recently in the Street of Khoo Kongsi in Penang.
Each time I see a Lion Dance, it brought back memories. Memories that never to forget where we originated. And I am glad, it was not forgotten by the younger generation too in Penang Lion Dance.
Penang Lions Dance are handed down from generation to generation. Penang Lion Dance has been in our Chinese culture as long as I can remember.
Not forgetting of course, our roots in China. But in Malaysia, techniques is getting more sophisticated than those in China.
I remembered watching the performers practicing day and night perfecting the movements in Penang Lion Dance. The endurance of perfection in everything you do. Young kids and mother rushing to practices in preparation for the festive event needs.
The whole Penang Lion Dance performance lies with the team. From the drummers and the comical monk, we called him Moonface (cos his face is as round as the moon).The stage boys and assistants. Everyone is equally important.
In this page, you can read:
- Roles of the lion
- Role of the comical monk
- The story of Lion Dance
- The traditions is born
- Two types of Lion dance Performance
- Tiam Gan or Eye Dotting Ceremony
- Preparation for having a Lion Dance
To play the Lion, it requires two people. One plays the head while the other is the Lion's tail.
In Penang Lion Dance,we believed that once the dancer puts on the the Lion Head, he is in the world of his own. He symbolizes power, courage and strength.
He is also the powerful ninth son of the dragon, the most trusted guard in God's kingdom. So people do seek him out to ward off evils.
He wears a big round face, getting the Lion up to do its job. Sometimes when the Lion wakes up from his sleep, he is drowsy and do not know his way.
The ever cheeky monk teases the Lion, making him less fearful by people. He might be looking for his food straight away but the monk will make him work for his food.
That is why we loved Moonface. He is able to get away with his tricks to make the Lion give us a stentorian performance.
He would tease the Lion to no end, and as he makes them dance, you can actually see the invigorating movements of the Lion.
He will then lead the Lion to receive his meal, the lettuce. Lions loves the vegetable, Lettuce. That is one reason why lettuce is an offering during Penang Lion Dance.
This lucky lettuce is placed by people on a high pole. Oooh man, how the Lion has to dance, climb, creep quietly as though he is in looking out for the evil demons Nian.
Moving cautiously, checking for traps set by the demons and any ambushes, before he actually gets his lettuce, his meal.
This Penang Lion Dance performance when done in a business environment sends the message that in your daily business, you need to be cautious in your business ventures.
And need be, the Lion has come to ward off any negative vibrations or the unrighteous dealings that may come along the way.
The drummers plays the most important part in the Penang Lion Dance. A good performance will bring good luck, abundant happiness and bountiful of wealth.
The drummers must ensure that the drumming must closely mimic the emotions of the mystical lion gesture and performance. With this in mind, they are supposed to bring the Lion to LIFE!
Gestures, emotions and expressions by the performers must include excitement, caution, curiosity, playful, anger, sleepiness, confusions, laziness, happiness and sadness.
Some troops even include acrobatic skills to add excitement to the performance in Penang Lion Dance.
Long ago in China, in a tiny Hokkien village lived a fearful demon named Nien. Whenever there was a harvest, he would come into the village to rob and loot all of their harvest.
Frightened sad and unhappy, the villages congregated and thought of a plan to fight with the demons. But none is as big and fearful looking like the Evil Nien.
So as there were craftsmen, they decided to make a huge lion with bamboo and paper. Then added to it, someone said to include all their pots and pans to make loud noises to scare off the Nien.
So on the 8th night, having hidden in the sugar plantations and praying to Jade Emperor for some miracle, they braved out to fight the Evil Demon Nien.
Well, it was a brilliant idea and they succeeded to drive the evil demon off their village and never to be seen again.
The 8th day of Chinese New Year is the actual New Year Day for the Hokkiens. To this day, the Hokkiens prayed to Thnee Kong for his guidance and protections. In gratitude to the sugar cane for keeping them alive, together and safe.
And since the Lions did indeed scare the evil demon away, the Lion dance is performed in any good occasions to offer a thanksgiving. Warding off evils and bad omens and beginning of something new.
A team of performance for lion dances comprises of normally ten to twelve people. One to two lion actual dancers, two or more reserves dancers , moonface is optional, two drummers and four to six assistants.
Lion dance performers in the Northern style are mainly for entertainment in the courts.
So they are lively, comical and colorful shaggy lions are seen. They would include acrobatic acts to jive up the crowd, balancing acts on balls or poles.
These Southern style lion performers are widely used in warding off evils, summon fortunes and call in luck. Their distinctive feature are large eyes, a mirror on the forehead and a single horn in the center of the head.
A lion without going through this ceremony cannot perform in the Lion Dance performance. It is believed to bring bad luck and misfortune.
Only those who knows how to perform this eye dotting ceremony will be called upon to do this. I was told they used live rooster blood to dot the eyes of the Lion.
The purpose of this ceremony is to awaken and tame the Lion. So this special chap knows the Chinese See Koo (spiritual words). This ceremony is usually perform in an ancestral home, clans homes or association or temple.
Ancestral altar or Deities Statues
If you do worship, they would first pay respect to the Gods, then the ancestors before performing the ceremony.
In Penang Lion Dance, when non Chinese called the Lion Dance in, they would placed oranges for them to "eat". Usually placed them on the boss or manager's table.
Lettuce with Red Packet (Ang Pows)
Tie up in the pole, you will see some fun, as they eat the lettuce and spills all the new fortune all over.