Sugarcane rush begins in Malaysia as Hokkien festivities loom

Commonly called the Hokkien New Year, the Thnee Kong Seh (Jade Emperor’s birthday) is a big celebration in Penang.


Families selecting sugarcane and pineapples, key symbols in the Jade Emperor’s birthday or Thnee Kong Seh. The festival is celebrated by the Chinese community of Hokkien origin on the ninth day of the lunar calendar which falls today.

February 8, 2022

GEORGE TOWN – The Thnee Kong Seh (Jade Emperor’s birthday) will be celebrated with gusto here tonight, with sugarcane being high on the list of items sought on this day.

Sugarcane seller Lim Yew Boon, 46, said he expected to sell between 3,000 and 4,000 stalks to last-minute shoppers this year.

“Many devotees would prefer getting sugarcane stalks nearer to the celebration for fear it would dry up and wilt due to the hot weather if they buy them earlier.

“But there are also some who would buy them early for fear of last-minute disappointment,” said Lim when met by the roadside in Jalan Perak yesterday.

Sugarcane rush begins in Malaysia as Hokkien festivities loom-1

Keeping to tradition: Customers buying sugarcane at a roadside stall in George Town. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

According to legend, the Hokkien community escaped massacre in ancient China by seeking refuge in a sugarcane plantation and emerged unharmed on the Jade Emperor’s birthday, which explains the long association between Hokkiens and the sugarcane.

Lim said the sale of sugarcane had gradually declined over the years as more people now live in high-rise buildings.

“The prayer altar used to be flanked by two sugarcane stalks.

“But with more people now staying in high-rise units, they will just buy a single stalk due to space constraints and chop it up before presenting it on a plate during prayers.

“In the past, I could easily sell over 5,000 stalks each year,” said Lim, who sources his sugarcane from Jawi to sell them at RM8 per stalk.

“I have not raised the price as every one has been affected by the difficult times.

“All I wish is to preserve the tradition and that every one can celebrate this Hokkien New Year in a safe and peaceful manner,” he said.

A check by The Star yesterday showed that many devotees were shopping for prayer paraphernalia and other essential items for the occasion.

Among them was retired engineer Dominic Tan, 68, who did his best to never miss the prayer yearly except for a few times due to religious abstinence.

“Sugarcane stalks are symbolic for the celebration that has taught us to be grateful.

“Whenever we celebrate, children and relatives would visit and we are able to bond better with the family.

“Although this year’s celebration is toned down, we should not skip tradition,” he said.

Commonly called the Hokkien New Year, Thnee Kong Seh is a big celebration in Penang, with devotees thronging Chew Jetty in Weld Quay and the Thnee Kong Tnua (Jade Emperor Temple) at the foot of Penang Hill.

Many families will set up altars with a sugarcane stalk tied to each side of the prayer altar, along with offerings such as pineapples and other fruits, ang koo (bean paste cake), mee koo (red tortoise bun), huat kuih (prosperity cake), roasted meat and joss paper.

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