Zhao’an Hakka Festival

Every autumn, Lunbei Township of Yunlin County holds the "Zhao’an Hakka Culture Festival" for nearly one month. On the first night of the festival, people gather and hold torches in their hands to parade for blessings. Then a series of activities are held for four consecutive weekends, including martial arts performances, Hakka ancient ceremonies, exhibitions, etc.

Among Taiwan’s Hakka communities, there’s one group whose ancestors came from Zhao’an in Fujian province, China. This group of "Zhao’an Hakkas” crossed the sea to settle in Taiwan at a very early time, approximately in the middle of the Qing Dynasty. They settled in Yunlin County. Their settlement has a history of at least three hundred years. At present, Taiwan's Zhao’an Hakkas are most densely concentrated in Lunbei Township in Yunlin County​​.

Yunlin’s Zhao’an Hakkas still have distinctive language accents, traditional folk customs, martial arts skills, and traditional cuisine that are different from those of Hakkas in Taiwan’s Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli and Kaohsiung-Pingtung area’s Liudui settlement. They are a group of people with quite a unique culture. In the early days when Zhao’an Hakkas went to Yunlin to set up communities and develop the land, they protected their homes against intrusion from thieves by holding torches at night and taking turns keeping watch over the village. With the changes in society, the torches have lost their defensive role, but holding torches has become a custom of the Zhao’an Hakkas during the Mid-Autumn Festival to “greet the night." This has become a common memory of the community’s residents.

During the development of Taiwan, Zhao’an Hakkas had relatively few conflicts with other ethnic groups, which is related to their friendly relations with the majority ethnic group, the Minnan people. In their original homeland and the new land they had migrated to, the Zhao’an Hakkas had good interactions with the Minnan people of southern Fujian. Many Zhao’an Hakkas spoke both the Hakka and Minnan dialects.

Since the Zhao’an Hakka language is non-mainstream for most Hakka communities, and in the past, the Qikan area (an area generally referring to the settlement of Zhao’an Hakka in Yunlin County) was mainly an agricultural area in which for their daily life, they needed to go to Xiluo to purchase goods, and Xiluo had mostly Minnan people, Zhao’an Hakkas had few chances to use their own language. On top of that, the proverbs and songs of the Zhao’an Hakka had not been spread elsewhere, and the use of their vocabulary had been replaced by other dialects, so this led to a decline in the usage rate of the Zhao’an Hakka tongue.

The Zhao’an Hakkas in Qikan and the surrounding areas had long-term interaction with the Minnan settlements. As a result, through social changes and intermarrying, the family structure of the Zhao’an Hakkas was transformed. In terms of language and lifestyle habits, the Zhao’an Hakka culture became heavily influenced by Minnan people. This led to an identity crisis for later descendants of Zhao’an Hakkas. Many people in the community thought they were Minnan people and didn’t know that they were Hakkas.

At present, the loss of Zhao’an Hakka culture is quite serious. In the case of Qikan area, the eastern part of Qikan is adjacent to Xiluo, and there are few people there who use the Zhao’an Hakka language. There are only a few communities – Gangwei Community in Lunbei Township and Luocuo Community and Erlun Township – where the Zhao’an Hakka language is still used in the daily conversations of residents. In recent years, it has been left up to the schools to promote the Zhao’an Hakka mother-tongue to students so that the younger generation can learn the language.

This festival was created by residents of Zhao’an Hakka settlements who are deeply aware that their people are facing the loss of their culture. They took the initiative to plan and organize the festival to remind Zhao’an Hakka people to respect their ancestors by attaching importance to and inheriting their culture, lifestyle and customs. Through the festival, they hope to rediscover and explore the emotions and values ​​of their people’s past, and to help people all over the country know the profound meaning of Zhao’an Hakka culture.