Hawai'i's Nam Long: their background and identity as a Zhongshan subgroup.

Author:Chong, Douglas D.L.

The Nam Long people of Zhongshan county in Guangdong constitute a distinct speech group among the various Chinese subcultural groupings in that county. (1) They are one of several Zhongshan speech groups that migrated from the coastal Min region to the northeast in present-day Fujian Province, beginning over a thousand years ago. Eventually they formed a discrete enclave of village settlements in Zhongshan (called Xiangshan until 1925). There they retained elements of their Min dialect and adhered to time-honored traditions, including that of bringing in brides from the mother's or sister-in-law's family or from an aunt's or a grandmother's village. Family histories and extended genealogies thus reflect complex patterns of close-knit kinship ties through affinal connections and attest to the clannish nature of Nam Long villages. So strong has been their ethnocentrism that, while the Nam Long people have adopted the standard Zhongshan or Shekki (Shiqi) speech (a subdialect of the Yue or Cantonese dialect) in school and business, their ancestral tongue has persisted in their villages along with traditional customs and inbred bloodlines.

In Zhongshan the name "Nam Long" (Nanlang), literally "southern brightness," also refers to an area of fifty to fifty-five square miles inhabited by the Nam Long people and to the large marketplace that for centuries served as its central hub. This village area is located in the eastern portion of the county within the See Dai Doo (Sidadu) district (renamed the Fourth District). It fronts the Pearl River estuary and is situated across from Bow On (Baoan) county, which lies to the north of Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The Nam Long area is only a twenty-minute car ride from Shekki, Zhongshan's county seat and commercial center (Ching and Chong 1987: 37). Throughout this study the name "Nam Long" applies to this specific area or enclave and the subtype of Min dialect spoken there, as well as to its native inhabitants and its overseas emigrants and their descendants--that is, the Nam Long people.

By the mid-nineteenth century adventurous Nam Long males had begun to emigrate abroad. Their initial sojourns entailed long ocean passages to California as prospectors during the Gold Rush and to South America as laborers or gamblers. During the latter part of the century more appreciable numbers of Nam Long laborers migrated overseas to three major destinations--North America (principally California); South America (including Cuba, Panama, and Brazil); and the Hawaiian Islands. Hawai'i's Chinese community was formed mainly by emigrants from Zhongshan, who made up nearly 70 percent of the Islands' Chinese population. As a result, Hawai'i has for generations claimed to have the largest Zhongshan community in the world outside of China. This overseas community, however, was formed by sojourners and settlers from many Zhongshan districts. Nam Long people stemming from See Dai Doo are merely one component of the Islands' Zhongshan population.

The initial emigration of Nam Long laborers to Hawai'i occurred over a century ago. Nowadays the majority of the fourth- and fifth-generation descendants are well assimilated into Hawai'i's multicultural society and seem totally unaware of their Nam Long identity. Most younger-generation Chinese from well-known Nam Long families in Hawai'i cannot identify themselves as descendants of native Zhongshan stock, much less as being of Nam Long ancestry. The significance of their Fujian origins and Min "roots" also holds no meaning for the younger generation. In contrast, a few third-generation elders who belong to the See Dai Doo Society in Honolulu are still aware of their Nam Long identity and background and are earnestly striving to discover more about their heritage. Within the past five years a few Nam Long descent groups associated with native-place village and surname organization in Hawai'i have become more interested in their origins and Min roots as well. With the exception of a few linguistic studies, however, there has been virtually no research done on the origins of the Nam Long people.

My objective in this brief paper is to link the Nam Long people in Hawai'i with their home area in Zhongshan. I shall deal with their immigrant experience in the Islands, their historical background in China, and finally Nam Long marriage ties and their distinctive speech. In particular, I wish to establish more clearly the identity of the Nam Long people as a separate subcultural group. Hence I include an account of their Min forbears' migration southward from Fujian and subsequent resettlement in the Nam Long area of present-day Zhongshan.


Nineteenth-century Nam Long migration to Hawai'i mainly followed the common Zhongshan pattern of labor recruitment for work on the Islands' sugar and rice plantations. However, many Nam Long villagers also emigrated to South America or to California, where at first the gold rush was a major attraction. Nam Long families in Zhongshan still talk about the time of their great-great-grandfathers' generation, when some brothers left for South America and others for California or Hawai'i. These villagers always recount that those ancestors who left early for South America and became sugar, cotton, and tobacco laborers eventually returned home as wealthy businessmen and gamblers, while those who sojourned in Hawai'i initially as sugar plantation laborers returned as comfortable rice farmers and store owners. Some of the early Nam Long emigrants to South America came to dislike the lifestyle there and eventually transmigrated to Hawai'i to join their kinsmen living in the Islands. Nevertheless, in a few cases the reverse was true. In other cases, relatives living in South America returned to China for a visit and ended up taking their village nephews back with them to South America.

Nam Long emigrants who transmigrated to Hawai'i after the California Gold Rush oftentimes arrived with at least some savings. This personal capital enabled them to enter into farming pursuits on their own and encouraged the more successful among them to become settlers in the Islands rather than merely temporary sojourners. The family of Mrs. Tom Chung, which stems from the rice-farming village of Sai Chin (Xicun) in Nam Long, offers an example. (2) Her maternal grandfather emigrated to California and joined many other Nam Long prospectors in their search for gold throughout the Sacramento delta during the late 1850s and early 1860s. A decade later the rest of her family also left for California. After gleaning a tiny fortune in gold dust, they used their resources to seek a more stable livelihood in Hawai'i. Enduring much hardship, her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ching Kan You, eventually settled the family on a small but secure rice plantation in Kaluanui, Oahu. The Chings tilled the soil and comfortably raised a large family in Hawai'i before retiring after the turn of the century and returning to China.

Other Nam Long settlers in Hawai'i also profited from their California Gold Rush experiences either before they arrived in the Islands or before they permanently settled there. Tin-Yuke and Wai Jane Char (1979: 24, 104) provided several examples among the old-time Nam Long rice planters on Kauai. One was Hee Fat, who was a successful planter and among the earliest recorded Hawai'i-born Nam Long Chinese. His parents moved to Kauai from California following the gold rush, and Hee Fat was born in Anahola, Kauai, on August 23, 1858. Another Nam Long settler, Ching Duck Pui, the progenitor of the Ako descent group of Kauai, reached Hawai'i in 1846, along with Ching Alana. Both left for the California Gold Rush several years later. After a year of prospecting in Northern California, the two men returned to Hawai'i with gold nuggets and gold dust. Ching Alana settled in Honolulu, and Ching Duck Pui went on to start a rice plantation in Waimea, Kauai.

Most of the Nam Long people who left California for Hawai'i initially engaged in agricultural pursuits. They tended to congregate in settlements with kinsmen and fellow villagers who had immigrated directly from Zhongshan, usually as laborers contracted for the sugar plantations. These immigrant Nam Long farmers, in turn, were instrumental in bringing over additional villagers from their home area to help reclaim coastal swamps and valley terrain and turn such land into productive rice acreage. As experienced cultivators, they realized the potential for rice planting in Hawai'i.

Nam Long immigrants persevered in their reclamation efforts and eventually set up and operated large, profitable rice plantations in Hawai'i. Their mutual support enabled them to succeed in these ventures and to establish good-sized communities centered around their flourishing plantations. On the island of Oahu they settled along the windward coast from Kahaluu to Kahuku, opening up rice plantations and cooperatives there as early as the 1860s. James Chun (1983: 13) relates that "with few expectations the [rice] planters had come from the Nam Long area of See Dai Doo in Chungshan [Zhongshan] county. Many were actually heong li [xiang li], people from the same village. On top of that, so many of them were related to each other, either by blood or marriage."

Others also remember Nam Long rice farmers who flourished in windward Oahu. Mrs. Chun Mun Chu (1972) has related the story of her maternal uncle, L. Akuna (Lee Mou Chung), who had been a gold miner in California. By the late 1870s, Akuna had married a native Hawaiian, opened acres of rice paddies, and built his own mill at Kaalaea in the vicinity of Kahaluu. More recently, Henry C. F Lau (1988: 94-96) has recalled a number of Nam Long rice farmers with the surnames Ching (Chen), Au (Ou), Wong (Wong or Huang), Chun (Chen), and Yim (Yan), along with some from other Zhongshan districts, who settled in Kahaluu and Waikane. Lum Pui Young (1975)...

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