Tenn Nga-I, Freelancer
Old Hakka Homestead
(Translated by Tenn Nga-I)
The people have all gone
All that’s left is an old homestead
The door that creaked open countless times,
Stands silent now
In front of the house there’s only a banana tree,
Bending its waist to the earth
Rustled by chill winds, gust after gust
Telling tales of villagers long departed
In the courtyard where grain once dried in the sun
Only a millstone and a rake remain
They seem to remember nothing
Preferring to lie idle
A cluster of sparrows flies overhead
Then flies away
Huang Hengqiu’s somber “Gone with a Hakka Homestead” recalls days of yore in a Hakka farming village, the poem’s measured cadences reflecting the poet’s deep sense of powerlessness and loss.
Fo fong (伙房) are traditional Hakka dwellings. According to custom, several generations of the same family live together, work together, and look after each other in clusters of fo fong, forming large settlements. Still-extant fo fong are mostly brick-and-tile constructions, in a variety of architectural styles and arrangements. 1 Plain and simple in style, the structures are well lit and ventilated, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Clan members are assigned rooms to according to generational standing, from old to young. Front courtyards provide space for drying grains and vegetables. The foremost building is the tang ha (廳下), or central hall, a place for receiving guests. At its rear is another courtyard, and beyond that the ancestral hall. Architectural manifestations of the Hakka spirit, these communal living spaces maintained family cohesion, coalescing clan identity.
Nevertheless, at the beginning of the poem what’s revealed to readers’ eyes is a fo fong in ruins; a once lively space filled with familial love and warm memories is now deserted because “the people have all gone” and only an “old, homestead” still stands. Thus readers can infer that the house’s former occupants left the country for the city, either to seek livelihood or pursue education. “The door that creaked open countless times / Stands silent now” the stillness a contrast to former bustle, reflecting the present state of loneliness and desolation. No longer verdant and upright, the banana tree in front of the house bends to the earth, old and wizened; rustled by gust after gust of cold wind, the tree recalls the past, retelling villagers’ stories.
In the next stanza the poet’s gaze turns to the courtyard, the place where grain once dried in the sun now barren. An old millstone and a grain rake, long out of use, are all that remain. The abandoned implements seem to “…seem to remember nothing / Preferring to lie idle.” Actually, they are standing watch over the old homestead, calm and steady, an eternal rearguard for the Hakka wanderers who have left them behind.
In the last stanza the poet again redirects readers’ visual perspective, this time to the house’s eaves, where a flock of sparrows inject a touch of life into the scene, a lively contrast to the old building, the silent door, the decrepit banana tree, and the deserted courtyard. But the birds soon depart, the lines seeming to suggest that the village’s decline is irreversible. Still, we understand that the poet sees life’s comings and goings and the affairs of the world as natural phenomena, mitigating somewhat the poem’s aura of melancholy.
In “Old Hakka Homestead” Huang Hengqiu writes of a wanderer returning to his home in the countryside. In addition to venting feelings of pain and homesickness, the work also calls modern culture into question. In today’s capitalist society, Taiwan’s traditional rural landscapes, agricultural development, values, and natural environments have all been sacrificed to industrialization and globalization.
After reading the poem, we can perhaps ask ourselves: In a time when localization, local culture, and traditional ancestral wisdom are being reexamined and revalorized, is there indeed no way to extend a new lifeline to Hakka farming villages submerged by the flood of modern culture?
1Photos of traditional fo fong can be viewed at the following web address: https://goo.gl/sKPZqk
Qiu Maojing, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Huang Hengqiu (1957- ) is the penname of Huang Ziyao, a native of Tongluo in Miaoli County. A graduate of Fu Jen University, Huang has served as chief editor of Hakka Magazine, director of Treasure Island Hakka Radio Station, and director of the Taipei County Hakka Affairs Association. He currently acts as president of Taiwan Hakka P.E.N. Huang loved poetry as a youth, and in 1975 created the “Convergence” poetry exhibition, and compiled and printed A Bit of Fluorescence, a poetry publication. 1981 he joined the Li Poetry Society and published his first poetry collection, A Calabash’s Worries. He revamped New World Poetry Journal as New World Modern Poetry Journal with Zhang Guozhi and others in 1988. While discussing Taiwanese (Holo) literature with Zhao Tianyi that same year he learned of a Hakka translation of the Bible and the Hakka poems of Du Pan Fangge, and was also inspired by the “Give-Me-Back-My-Mother-Tongue Movement.” Thus, he resolved to write literature in the Hakka language. Two years later he published Taiwan’s first Hakka poetry collection, A Carrying Pole Life (1990), a milestone in Hakka literature. Huang continued to write prolifically, subsequently publishing the Hakka poetry collections Shy Flower (1998), Hakka Poetry (2002), and Sounds of a Hakka Village (2009), as well as the Chinese poetry collections Lonely Density (1989) and I’m a Parrot (1994). In affirmation of his work the Li Poetry Society published fifty-year anniversary commemorative edition, Huang Hengqiu (2014), a selection of Huang’s poems.
Huang Hengqiu’s critical and academic writings have focused on three main areas: literature, the Hakka people, and Taiwan. Publications include Taiwanese Literature and Modern Poetry (1992), Rainbow Time: Selected Works of Miaoli County Writers (1998). Belief in the Lords of the Three Mountains and Changes in Ethnic Group Relations (1999) Hakka Writing: A Catalog of the Works of Taiwanese Hakka Writers (2001), and 200 Hakka Hill Songs (2010).
For his many contributions to Hakka culture Huang Hengqui has been honored with the Taiwan Hakka Culture Award (1996), the Hakka Contribution Award (2011), and New Taipei City’s “Golden Hakka Award” for literary achievement. Beginning in 2010, Huang and other proponents of Hakka literature founded Literature by Hakka Magazine, Taiwan’s first quarterly literary journal dedicated entirely to Hakka writing, offering guidance and support to new generation of Hakka writers.
|Work(English)：||Old Hakka Homestead|
|Anthology：||Sounds of a Hakka Village|
|Author：||Huang Hengqiu (Vong, Hen-chhiu)|
|Translator：||鄭雅怡 (Tenn Nga-i)|
|Publisher：||Xinzhuang District in New Taipei City: Taiwan Hakka History Workshop|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.hakka.gov.tw/ct.asp?xItem=48766&ctNode=1910&mp=1869|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Hakka Affairs Council, R.O.C.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Unpublished Translation by the Literature Toolkit Project|