Cantonese opera on Lamma Island Photo: Jack Yao
Cantonese opera on Lamma Island. Photo: Jack Yao

Although the local fishing industry is in decline, the celebration of sea goddess Tin Hau’s birthday is one of the most important festivals in Hong Kong.

Across the city elaborate events are being held in the name of the Chinese goddess, such as dragon boat racing, opera in bamboo theaters and temple ceremonies. It’s also an occasion for families and friends to gather around big round table to enjoy roast suckling pig and other traditional delicacies.

Video journalist Jack Yao made this film, using a drone, from the outlying island of Lamma to show how local Hongkongers celebrate the festival.

The jewel in the crown of celebrations is the spectacular Cantonese opera. The 16,000 square foot theater is erected every year – using hundreds of bamboo poles – and then taken down as soon as the festival is over.

According to legend, Tin Hau was originally a girl named Lin Moniang from Weizhou, Fujian province. She was born in the Song dynasty (960AD), and was said to have powers to predict storms.

But she died at sea while trying to save her father and brother when their boat sank. After her death, Lin’s family believed she ”rose to heaven” and became a goddess because of her act of bravery.

The goddess is widely believed to grant wishes and get rid of evil spirits – which partly explains why even landlubbers worship her today.

The birthday of Tin Hau – who also goes by the names of A-ma and Ma Tsu in Macau and Taiwan – falls on the 23rd day of the third lunar month, which this year is April 19.

In Taiwan, Tin Hau is known as Ma Tsu. Photo: Wikimedia Commons