The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, a UNESCO treaty was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in 2003. The Convention has gained wide international acceptance with 178 states parties as of 11 May 2018. Article 2(1) of the Convention defines the “intangible cultural heritage” as the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills-as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith-that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. It has been transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups. In Singapore’s multicultural society, there are many genres of traditional performing arts of different ethnic communities that have been practised for years. Teochew opera, originated from south-eastern China, stood the test of time, and remains as one of the oldest living traditions here.
Among the groups that continue to stage Teochew opera performances today, Nam Hwa Opera, established in 1963, is the most dynamic group that has transformed itself as a professional company with many achievements. Nam Hwa Opera received the Stewards of Intangible Cultural Heritage Award from the National Heritage Board in 2020 for its dedication to the promotion and transmission of its practices of Teochew opera and its outstanding contributions in the safeguarding of the art form as a living tradition.
In a short span of five years, Nam Hwa Opera has set up a Teochew Opera music ensemble and has performed regularly to acclaim. It conducts training courses for children and amateur practitioners and featured the students in 19 session of “Nam Hwa Blaze” since 2017. The sessions were performed at various venues aiming at reaching out to a wide range of audiences. Apart from presenting familiar Teochew opera classics such as “Su Liu Niang”, “Liu Ming Zhu” and popular excerpts, Nam Hwa also presented original works like The Severing Sword adapted from a wuxia novel by Liang Yu Sheng, directed by Goh Boon Teck and “The Painted Skin” written and directed by Chua Soo Pong. These productions enjoyed successes in Singapore and in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, and Korea. Nam Hwa opera also published books on Teo chew opera history and pictorial books for children to raise the awareness of Teo chew culture and heritage.
In a recent interview, Toh Lim Mok, President of Nam Hwa Opera s a i d “ The original objective of Nam Hwa Opera was to inherit the culture of the Teochew community. It remains the same today. Our mission is to inherit, promote and develop our cultural heritage with inventive programmes that at tract young and old audiences and supporters. Teochew opera is an important component of Teochew culture. The journey of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage is long and challenging. The key factor in succeeding to overcome the difficulties is gathering the support of the community. It is with the strong support of many successful businessmen and community leaders who see the value of protecting their own rich heritage of Teochew culture, Teochew cuisine, adult rites and other customs, Teochew dialect and songs, embroidery, Gongfu tea, wood carving etc.” As part of its efforts to safeguard Teochew opera, Nam Hwa Opera set up the Yeo Khee Lim Teochew Culture Research Centre, with the aim of becoming a hub for research in Teochew culture and an archive of Teochew opera. With the dedicated team of 23 full time staff, Nam Hwa Opera is set to continue its good works in the years to come.