Evening of Lights at Khoo Kong Si

As part of the ‘Last Friday Saturday Sunday’ initiative organised by Penang Global Tourism, Khoo Kongsi’s courtyard is lit up and opened to the public for one night of the last weekend of every month. The night is a vibrant display of traditional Chinese art and performance, coupled with some food stalls and is a very welcoming evening for locals and tourists alike.

The Khoos were one of the five major Hokkien clans to have migrated to Penang, and the kongsi (clan house) with its elaborate temple served as a welfare institution for newcomers to Penang, and as a link between the family and their ancestors. The ornate and ostentatious style of construction of the clan house also functioned as a reminder of the power and wealth of the Khoo family. The original temple, built in 1850 was (if the tales are to be believed) struck by lightening in 1901 and a common explanation is that it resembled the Emperor’s palace and so angered the gods. The current temple, however, is still incredibly elaborate – many craftsmen from China were commissioned for its rebuilding – and is well worth a visit during the day as well to see the interior.

The kongsi was, naturally, the centre of the clan community for many years, not just for festivals but general social activities, and so it is good to see the Evening of Lights reviving this through this monthly celebration of traditional Chinese culture. It doesn’t take long for a visitor to become aware of the sense of community that prevails, between the dancers, musicians and other performers to the safety people and organisers who ensure the night runs smoothly, and finally with the audience.

The atmosphere around the kongsi is alive from the first moment you hear the drums while walking towards the temple. It is a fantastic opportunity, not only to see the temple’s grounds in use, but also at night when the bright colours of its facade are emphasised by the contrast with the dark sky and are brought to life with the music which reverberates around the courtyard.

The Evening of Lights is also a great chance to see local talent, such as Penang State’s champion lion dancers and the musicians who play throughout the night. Perhaps the best thing is that, despite the setting and that the performances being largely traditional, it at no point feels like an artificial revival for tourists, but more the demonstration of a genuine desire to keep traditions alive. In all the night is a great opportunity to see the kongsi in a new light (literally and figuratively). The LFSS evening has undoubtedly become a community event, but is very much an open invitation for the whole of Penang to come and be a part of that it for an evening.

The evening runs monthly between 6.30pm and 10PM, usually on the last Saturday of the month, and is totally free. More information on the evening at Khoo Kongsi and the other LFSS events can be found here https://www.facebook.com/LFSSPenang and on the Khoo Kongsi website http://www.khookongsi.com.my/events/an-evening-of-lights-at-khoo-kongsi/.

By Ella Benson Easton