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Friday, July 5, 2013, 14:12

Heung Yee Kuk: Bound in blood

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By SL Luo

The indigenous community wants to benefit from the opening of the Frontier Closed Area. But Heung Yee Kuk Vice-Chairman Daniel Lam tells SL Luo the indigenous people will not sacrifice their land rights and traditions.

 Heung Yee Kuk: Bound in blood
Kuk leader Daniel Lam Wai-keung seeks understanding from outsiders that indigenous people are not getting special treatment from the government, urging them to play a part in the development of the New Territories.

 

UNITED WE STAND

There’s an old saying that no power in Hong Kong has either the tenacity or the audacity to take on the indigenous community. The community has shown itself to be one of the most well-knit and cohesive political forces in the city.

Indigenous people consider their status and rights as impermeable, non-negotiable and unassailable.

For almost nine decades since the Heung Yee Kuk came into being, it has remained the sole, legitimate voice of the indigenous population, which currently numbers about 300,000.

The number of indigenous inhabitants in the New Territories may have dwindled over the years as a result of aging and mass migration, but the spirit and endeavors that have held them together have never been stronger. The confrontation with the government over tough building height restrictions on their homes and unlicensed building additions has been a case in point.

  Villagers have risen up, to defend their “sacred rights” and traditions to the “last drop of blood” as they characterize their resolve.

Controversy has also been stirred over the “Small House Policy” upholding the customary right of indigenous male villagers to grants of land.  The tradition has been criticized as discriminating against women. The Small House Policy is an issue that remains unsettled.

The Heung Yee Kuk (meaning village consultation committee) was established in 1926 to work with the government and engage in negotiations to preserve and promote the welfare of the indigenous population. Initially headquartered in Tai Po, the Kuk has gradually transformed itself from an agricultural organization into a full-fledged political entity. It was given formal status under the Heung Yee Kuk Ordinance (Chapter 1097), first enacted in December 1959.

The Heung Yee Kuk functional constituency in the Legislative Council (LegCo) elections was created in 1991.

Veteran village leader and businessman, Lau Wong-fat, took the seat from 1991 to 2004, and has been the Kuk’s LegCo representative since 2008.

The moment of glory came, says Kuk Vice-Chairman Daniel Lam Wai-keung, with the inclusion of Article 40 in the Basic Law which states: “The lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories shall be protected by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”

 Heung Yee Kuk: Bound in blood
The Frontier Closed Area offers enormous potential for diversified business operations as it gradually opens up.

Heung Yee Kuk leader, Daniel Lam Wai-keung, quotes a common Chinese adage as he reminisces over the past three decades of the organization’s unremitting journey — casting off its shell as a rural, farmland entity to become a full-fledged political powerhouse.

“We’ve gone through the mill, a life that’s been sour, sweet, bitter and hot,” he says.

It’s been like playing a “one-man band” throughout, constant fighting, occasionally drawing some consonance from outsiders in shared perspectives, says Lam, a veteran Hong Kong politician with almost 30 years of unbroken service to his kinfolk — the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories.

Lam calls himself a “kinsman fighter,” following a principle that has been the hallmark of his people for generations.  “We have no choice either as a councilor or a legislator. Everything’s for the people. It has to be the best. If we can’t succeed, we will have failed in our mission to be responsible and successful representatives of our people,” he says.

The Kuk, an organization founded on more than a century of ancestral kinship in the New Territories, has stood up on every issue close to the hearts of indigenous villagers, Lam says. “We take extreme pride in our standing, starting from colonial Hong Kong and our glorious past.” 

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