Malaysian master lion head maker has crafted 5,000 lion heads in close to 50 years
Paper Mache

Malaysian master lion head manufacturer has actually crafted 5,000 lion heads in near half a century

With Chinese Brand-new Year simply nearby, master crafter Lim Meng Kok is competing versus time to finish the last of the 100 orders for handmade lion heads he has actually handled this year.

His workshop on the initial flooring of a store great deal in Kepong, Kuala Lumpur, has actually been a hive of continuous task given that November. However as the celebrations technique, Lim is kicking points right into high equipment as he and also his group of 10 thrill to place the last discuss the popular productions.

Some finished lion heads, every one in various colours and also layouts, are hung up on the wall surfaces of the workshop, while a couple of incomplete ones inhabit voids on the flooring.

The workshop is loaded: in addition to the artisans and also ladies functioning intensely, there are heaps of boxes and also tins of poster paint anywhere. Rattan strips and also light weight aluminum cords that were made use of for the framework of the heads exist spread on the flooring and also on closets.

Lim (centre) wants to educate his child Seow Ling (ideal) and also his son-in-law, Kau the art of making lion heads.

Additionally assisting Lim are his little girls Lim Seow Ling, 43, Lim Seow Meng, 39, and also his son-in-law, Kau Wei Chin, 40.

Lim is happy that his kids have an interest in this passing away profession and also are taking the effort to discover the abilities of this craft from him.

“Any person can discover a brand-new ability or pastime if they have the enthusiasm and also dedication. I’m happy I have a group of specialized employees – including my relative – that are interested to discover this passing away art,” he claims.

With just around 10 lion head manufacturers in the nation, Lim,75, is figured out to give his competence to the more youthful generation.

“Lots of Chinese young people aren’t curious about finding out the craft due to the fact that they assume they can’t make an excellent earnings. They think lion heads are just marketed throughout the Chinese New Year period. However they are incorrect,” he claims.

Everyone has a specific task in the production of the lion heads in Lim’s workshop.   Everybody has a certain job in the manufacturing of the lion heads in Lim’s workshop.

“I run my company all the time, and also transform 200 lion heads annual. Fifty percent of these orders are for the Lunar New Year while the remainder are for holy places, Chinese organizations, and also unique appointed tasks. I likewise have orders from the USA, France and also Australia. If you buy a lion head today, you will certainly obtain it in August,” he claims.

Recognizing just how rewarding business can be, Lim shared that he left his task as an equipment driver in a food production factory in the late 1970s to introduce his company.

Today, his handmade lion heads are valued in between RM3,300 and also RM8,888.

“I made use of to operate at a gelato business in Bangsar. After job, I’d fix and also make lion heads in the house. Service was quick, and also I located it tough to deal with the orders I obtained. The cash was great also which motivated me to stop my task and also endeavor right into this company (full-time),” shared the pleasant grandpa of 7.

He is likewise the owner and also principal trainer of Meng Kok Dragon & Lion Dancing Performers, a 40-year-old lion dancing business that’s based in Kepong.

Lim created these tiger heads to mark the Year of the Tiger in 2022.Lim developed these tiger heads to note the Year of the Tiger in 2022.

Super trouper

With 45 years of experience (of making lion heads) under his belt, Lim is related to in the sector as a master crafter. In the last 5 years, he’s taken a trip throughout the nation, as well as likewise globally, to provide workshops on making lion heads. He’s likewise evaluated lion dancing champions at nationwide and also worldwide degrees. Till today, the septuagenarian remains to educate the trainees in his performers.

Last October, Lim was granted the title Malaysian Lion Dancing Master 2022 by the Tourist, Arts and also Society Ministry and also Malaysia Lion Dancing Federation.

Yellow and red coloured lion heads are popular during the Chinese New Year as it symbolises prosperity and luck. Photo: Facebook/Lo Fo Chi EnterpriseYellow and also red coloured lion heads are preferred throughout the Chinese New Year as it symbolizes success and also good luck. Image: Facebook/Lo Fo Chi Venture“There’s absolutely nothing even more satisfying than being identified as an artisan,” he claims.

“I’ve been crafting lion go to near 50 years and also I appreciate it significantly. I am attracted to the concept of producing lion heads from square one, and also paint detailed concepts on the lion heads,” clarified Lim, that passes the monicker “Loh Fo Chi” (Old Master Q), a personality in a preferred Hong Kong comic.

By the way, his business is likewise called Lo Fo Chi Venture.

Malaysia Lion Dancing Federation Assistant General and also Khuan Loke Dragon and also Lion Dancing Organization principal trainer Albert Fong Kong Yip, 47, defines Lim as “a mastercrafter renowned for his abilities, expertise, and also excellence of the art”.

“In the lion dancing neighborhood, Master Lim is considered as among the experts. He’s been a lion professional dancer for near 7 years and also a gifted lion head artisan given that the 1970s. He’s in his 70s and also yet he’s still so enthusiastic concerning being an artisan,” claims Fong.

Stiring up the lion

Lion heads are the major element of the standard dancing lion dancing. Such efficiencies are held throughout Chinese Brand-new Year and also various other social and also spiritual occasions. In Chinese society, the lion symbolizes power, knowledge, and also prevalence.

The fut san lion head has a  curved mouth and sharp horn. Photo: Facebook/Lo Fo Chi EnterpriseThe fut san lion head has a curved mouth and sharp horn. Photo: Facebook/Lo Fo Chi EnterpriseThe lion dance is performed during Chinese festivals to usher in good fortune and ward away evil spirits. It is one of the most important traditions at Chinese New Year.

Kau has been working with his father-in-law for 23 years. Even though he knows he has a long way to go, he is determined to improve his skills under Lim’s guidance.

“My father-in-law is strict but kind. What I appreciate most is his dedication and passion to groom us as the future generation of lion head makers,” says Kau, who promotes the handcrafted items on Lim’s Facebook, Lo Fo Chi Enterprise.

The popular colours for lion heads are yellow (symbolising prosperity), red (luck), green (health) and gold (wealth).

“Since it’s the Year of the Rabbit, I have received a number of (orders for) lion heads painted in gold and pink. Some customers request for bright colours like baby blue, purple and neon green. Black is not a preferred colour because it is considered unlucky during the Lunar New Year,” the craftsman says.

Rattan strips are bent to form the base on the lion's head. Rattan strips are bent to form the base on the lion’s head.

Lim makes two styles of Southern lion heads – “hok san” (a lion head with a straight mouth and a bent horn on its head) and also “fut san” (curved mouth and sharp horn), both of which originate from Guangzhou in China.

There are six steps involved in making a lion head.

First, strips of rattan are bent and used to construct the frame. They are then attached to an aluminum base. Next, square strips of cotton cloth are glued onto the frame. Kite paper is then stuck on top of the cloth. Once dried, the lion head is painted using poster colours and glossy paint. The last step is to add ornaments, beads and fur. Rubber bands and strings are also attached inside the lion head to make the eyelids blink and ears wiggle.

“It’s like a production line where each staff member is assigned a different task. One person makes the structure of the lion head, while another person is tasked with painting it, another person adds the artificial fur and other decorations. We have been working non-stop, sometimes up to 12 hours a day, in these last few weeks.

“Thankfully I have a good team of dedicated workers. I treat them like my children,” says Lim.

Work in progress to create a fut san lion head. Yes, the one with the sharp horn.Work in progress to create a fut san lion head. Yes, the one with the sharp horn.

Passionate about tradition

Lim started out as a lion dancer when he was seven years old. He grew up in the heart of the city, on Petaling Street, and it was quite a norm for many Chinese youth in the area to join in lion dancing troupes, he says.

“I was one of the naughtiest boys who was always up to mischief,” he recalls, and also laughs. “And I enjoyed lion dancing very much. I grew up in a home where my elderly uncle used to share stories about the history of lion dance. Over time, I developed an interest to learn the art of making lion heads,” says Lim.

He learned the craft from lion head master craftsmen in Chinatown in the 1960s.

Over the years, Lim has actually mastered the abilities and techniques needed to make these iconic lions. He pays particular attention to the painting of each lion head to ensure their capability to express different emotions like surprise, anger and happiness.

“The lion head weighs about 7kgs. Rattan is a suitable material because it is lighter and pliable. Other material like aluminum is heavier, making it difficult for lion dancers to use it to jump and dance,” he explains.

Lim has been making lions head for close to 50 years. Lim has been making lions head for close to 50 years.

He also accepts custom-made orders for lion heads. He attaches small paper mache animals like carp, dragon and monkey – each measuring between four inches to eight inches – on the lion head.

“These are created for certain temples and dance troupes. It is a challenge to add on extra fittings yet we push our creativity to complete these orders.

“There are many factories in China that produce lion heads but our handmade lion heads are still popular. I think this is what sets us apart from factory-made lion heads.”

Thick calluses can be seen on Lim’s fingers, which is not surprising as his craft requires him to use his bare hands to weave, cut and paint the heads. However, his passion and devotion makes all the hard work involved fulfilling.

“Persistence, commitment and also enthusiasm keep me going. I am happy I have managed to turn my hobby into my full time job.

“When one understands the customs and also has actually a enthusiasm for what one is doing, one will certainly stay driven,” he wraps up.

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