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Uniquely HK

History Matters

Lamma Island

Lamma Island, the third largest island in Hong Kong, is probably the least known to visitors, yet it contains culture, history and nature in abundance.


Lamma Island is located to the southwest of Hong Kong Island. It has two main villages: Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan. Both have natural harbours and it is no surprise that both have been the home to fishermen for many hundreds of years. In contrast to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, Lamma is peaceful and tranquil with an abundance of natural scenery. Buildings higher than three storeys are prohibited and there are no automobiles – only distinctive slow-moving open-backed vehicles to transport construction materials, along with diminutive fire trucks and ambulances. The community gets around either by foot or on bicycle.

Fresh seafood at a typical restaurant
Before the arrival of the British, Lamma Island was known as “Pok Liu Chau” or “the place where foreign vessels dock”. Over 1,000 years ago travellers stopped by Lamma Island, rather than Hong Kong Island. In 1931 a priest discovered several stone containers, believed to have been cut during the New Stone Age. Since most of Hong Kong’s relics from the New Stone Age were found on Lamma, it is believed that there have been human settlements on the island since ancient times. There is also evidence of settlement during the Bronze Age. The Bronze Age in Hong Kong is equivalent to a period spanning from the middle of the Shang dynasty to the Qin dynasty (approximately 3800-3000 BC). Bronze Age relics found on Lamma Island include fishing hooks and stone spearheads at Sham Wan and a stone mould for casting an axe at Sha Po Tsuen.
The fisherfolk continued their life here largely undisturbed for centuries. In 1826 the Tin Hau temple at Sok Kwu Wan was built. The goddess Tin Hau is widely revered as the protector of fishermen. It burned down in 2004, but was rebuilt the following year. Tin Hau sits in all her splendour, watching over all who go to sea. Inside the temple is a specimen of a rare Oar Fish, 2.74 metres long and weighing in at 18.14 kilograms when it was caught by local fishermen in 2001.
The Tin Hau Temple 
Lamma Island became part of Hong Kong in 1898 when the New Territories were leased to the British. Nothing much changed for the villagers. However, the Japanese took Lo So Shing as a naval base in World War II and stationed soldiers there. Their intention was to hide speedboats in the caves to launch suicide attacks on the Allies’ warships, but war ended before the plan went ahead. Lo So Shing beach, a pretty little secluded cove, is fifteen minutes walk from Sok Kwu Wan and the entrances to the so-called Kamikaze caves can be seen alongside the path. For the more energetic, the path leads on to Yung Shue Wan. The walk takes an hour or so over the hills with spectacular views across the South China Sea in all directions.
View of Yeung Shu Wan
The fishermen still ply their trade and as a means of selling the catch a number of seafood restaurants have been set up at both the main villages. A frequent ferry makes the journey from Central to both of them in thirty minutes. Sok Kwu Wan, famous for its floating fish farms, is peaceful on weekdays with a opulation of around 300. But on weekends the numbers swell as city dwellers come over to feast on fresh seafood at the long row of restaurants facing the bay next to the pier. An afternoon can be spent relaxing under an awning savouring the day’s catch. The much loved Rainbow restaurant will even send a free boat to Central with prior  reservation.
To celebrate the island’s fishing heritage, the Lamma Fisherfolk’s Village has been established on a floating platform in the sheltered bay, reached by speedboat in a couple of minutes. This small museum-cum-theme park,  occupying an area of over 2000 square metres, showcases the local fisherfolk’s culture and history. The Village comprises an authentic fishing junk, traditional dragon boats, an exhibition hall, themed folklore booths, fishing rafts, and demonstrations. Here visitors can learn about the heritage and life of the boat people of Hong Kong, the Tanka fisherfolk who have lived around the South China coast for centuries. The fishing industry is in decline, so this village is an important way of keeping their culture in the public eye.
Fish farming
Although Lamma is still sparsely populated, some outsiders have made it their home and others have weekend properties here, with their vegetable gardens, lawns, and banana and papaya trees. It was on Lamma that John Romer, a great naturalist and snake specialist, discovered the tiny Romer’s tree frog in 1952. The rare 2cm-long frog is only found on a few outlying islands in Hong Kong. The island is also where green sea turtles lay their eggs. The endangered green turtles are a special group of marine organisms with distinctive navigation behaviour between their nesting, breeding, development and reproduction sites. As Sham Wan is the only existing nesting site for them in Hong Kong, every year from 1 June to 31 October access to the site is restricted to allow the turtles to breed. 
Richard Garrett has lived in Hong Kong for more than forty years and is the author of numerous articles on people and places in Hong Kong, Macau and China.


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