Elements of Intangible Cultural Heritage

    Seong Ka Carpentry






    Introduction:

    The traditional construction industry in Macao is sub-divided into different specialities, including the so-called Seong Ka corresponding to the construction industry, Ha Ka corresponding to the shipbuilding industry, and Chong Ka, which corresponds to the transport industry. In this context, Seong Ka skills refer to traditional Chinese carpentry skills applied to Chinese structures in the Cantonese style, mostly used for the construction of temples, mansions and single-storey buildings. This craft is focused on construction techniques, construction procedures and respective cultural meanings and traditions. These construction techniques include particular connecting designs and the use of trusses, beams, rafters and square rafters, also making use of a particular modular measurement system. The construction procedures include material selection, site selection, layout planning and pattern design. The cultural meaning of each construction phase and the respective traditions also need to be observed, such as selecting certain construction dates, blessing the soil before breaking ground, offering sacrifices to the earth god, following certain customs before entering a house, and other rituals prior to installing beams, installing doors, also avoiding that pillar corners face towards doors, among other rules.

     

    Conservation Status:

    With social development, traditional brickworks and wooden structures have been gradually substituted by construction materials such as reinforced concrete. Because of the increase in costs related with the raw materials used in this industry, Seong Ka carpentry is nowadays mostly used for repairing old  buildings, and many carpenters have since moved to other woodwork industries. In order to carry forward these traditional construction techniques and knowledge, it is necessary to create platforms to enable further research and the record of documentation that can ensure the future transmission of these customs and knowledge of this craft.

     

    Heritage Value:

    The Seong Ka carpentry is representative of sophisticated techniques, unique craftsmanship, and profound cultural meaning, making its transmission relevant as a Chinese cultural treasure.  This craft is also an important testimony about the resilience of traditional Chinese architectural culture in Macao. The articulation of each beam and pillar has to be harmonious, following precise rules of order and balance, in order to achieve a higher level of aesthetic values, creativity and ingenuity. This craft is the result of continuous evolution throughout the ages, with knowledge that was passed on by many generations of carpenters, thereby also being of significant value for the study about the evolution  of architectural techniques in Macao, also reflecting certain customs and traditions of the local community.


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