Thursday, November 6, 2008

Macau Firecracker History

Miniscule Macau with no natural resources to call its own has always bellied on the skills and the cheap wages of its industrious people. It was the only mean of survival.

Hard to imagine but the economic landscape of the former Portuguese enclave after the Second World War was vastly in contrast to the current soaring casinos adorning its futuristic skyline.

Before the likes of Venetian, Wynn and Sands made their presence felt in Macau, the backbone industry of the 50s and 60s was the laborious firecrackers making trade.

Wages from making firecrackers, matches and incense fed mouths and offered hope to the destitute, some having just escaped from the brutal uncertainty of a newly installed Communist regime across its border.
The period was known as the Golden Years of Traditional Working Industries in Macau and it ushered a rapid growth of firecrackers factories.
At its height, Macau boasted seven such factories and top in terms of local employment. ‘Fabrico en Macao’ miniature explosives soon became the must-have ingredients for all Chinese festivals world-over.

Unfortunately, not much of this proud Macau heritage remains today.
But for the historical buffs, a visit to the grayish two storey building that once housed the Kwong Hing Tai Firecracker Manufacturer is a good start.
Located along the busy Rua das Lorchas next to the Macau Masters Hotel, the disused building offers a rare glimpse into Macau’s past and a firecraker making facility.
Interestingly, the building stands on concrete stilts above the muddy waters of the Inner harbor, perhaps as a safety feature.

However, the industry began to take a backseat in the 80s when laborers were drawn to better paid jobs and the safer working environment in the textile and toy making industries.
The advent of China as the new firecracker manufacturing powerhouse further compounded the situation.

The Museum of Macau (Admission – M$15/Adult) does a decent job of bringing back to life the sights of a bygone firecracker industry.
Visitors will find exhibits on the tools of trade used in the making of firecrackers. Rare old photos also reveal how firecrackers are manually prepared by mixing the explosive cocktail and the bare essential environment workers must work with in the factories.

Needless to say, the artifacts salvaged by the Museum have allowed an appreciation for an important historical chapter in Macau’s history.

No quest for the firecracker heritage in Macau will be complete without the opportunity to catch the awesome International Fireworks Display Contest.
According to Macau Tourist Guide, the annual event takes place in late September and early October, and the perfect spot to watch the firework displays is at the waterfront near the Macau Tower.

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