With more than 800 people signed up, the biggest Hakka mountain song contest in the nation’s history was officially opened in Jhudong Township (竹東), Hsinchu County, yesterday.
Mountain songs are those that Hakkas traditionally sing when they work in tea fields and are an essential part of the culture. They are called “mountain songs” because many Hakkas traditionally lived in mountainous regions. While mountain song competitions are held everywhere, the one on Tianchuanri (天穿日) — or “the day that the sky breaks” — in Jhudong is considered the most important.
“If you haven’t won the championship at Jhudong’s Hakka mountain song contest, then you can’t call yourself a master at singing mountain songs,” Jhudong Township Mayor Su Jen-chien (蘇仁鑑) told the audience and contestants at yesterday’s opening ceremony.
“The Hakka mountain song contest in Jhudong has the longest history in the nation — this year marks the 45th competition since it was first held in 1964 — and is the biggest, with more than 800 people signed up for the competition,” Su said, adding that the number of contestants had ranged between 100 to 300 in the past.
The oldest contestant at this year’s competition is a 96-year-old Jhudong native who has participated in every mountain song contest since 1965, while the youngest participants are two six-year-old children, Su said.
As the melodies for Hakka mountain songs are very much fixed, the artistic part of Hakka mountain songs is in the lyrics, Su said.
“A man makes up something on the spot and the woman has to come up with something in reply immediately — and there are certain rhyming schemes to follow,” Su said, adding that the lyrics may be witty and singing mountain songs is a good form of entertainment for farmers.
Jhudong Township’s Social and Cultural Affairs Department Director Peng Ming-chu (彭明珠) explained why the contest is held on Tianchuanri.
“Tianchuanri marks the end of Lunar New Year holidays for Hakkas and is the last day to relax and have fun before returning to work,” Peng said.
Ancient myth has it that two gods once had a fight and one of them broke a pillar of Heaven, causing cracks to form in the sky and the Earth. As they cracked, water poured down from Heaven and fire leaked from the Earth, and there was much suffering until a goddess fixed the sky and brought peace to the people.
Although Tianchuanri falls on a Sunday this year, Su decided to extend the event to four days this year.
“We’ve witnessed a decline in Hakka mountain song culture in recent decades and we wanted to preserve the culture,” Su said. “So we extended the contest and added other festivities in order to promote it.”