Imagine intricately-carved wooden sedan chairs carried by devotees, making its way around the island, bearing statues of revered deities. And in the background, sounds of clashing cymbals and curious rhythms accompanying prayer chants ring loud.
That was usual scene in the olden days when deities from various temples all over the island would be “participate” in religious processions like a deity’s birthday or a temple’s anniversary.
Though the sedan chairs are a rare sight now, these antiques – made about 140 years ago during the Qing Dynasty – are kept under lock and key at the Carpenters’ Guild or Lo Pan Hong.
The humble guild also houses many other antique religious paraphernalia like wooden sign boards and religious weapon replicas – all made more than a century ago.
Conservation consultant and Tan Yeow Wooi, who was among those who worked on restoring the building and murals, says only “basic restoration works” were done due to lack of funds but insists that the Carpenters’ Guild is still a “must-visit” on his list of interesting heritage buildings.
“This is how the original structure looked like. It is one of the best examples of Cantonese architecture and craftsmanship – very different from other Chinese temples,” he says, urging visitors to pay close attention to the meticulously carved stone lion that guards the guild’s entrance.
Another interesting sight to note is the mural above the doorway where the God of Longevity is depicted wearing a pair of spectacles!
The chai men (an intricate three-dimensional carving featuring scenes from ancient Chinese folklore and palace life) that hangs in the main hall is another precious piece of history as it is unique to the Cantonese community’s heritage.
Dedicated to Lo Pan, patron deity of carpenters and other building artisans, the Carpenters’ Guild was established in 1801 to honour China’s very own Leonardo da Vinci. Lo Pan was an able carpenter, philosopher, military thinker and statesman and inventor of all kinds of construction equipment and building tools, like the cloud ladder (a mobile counterweighted siege ladder), grappling hooks and ram (boat implements used in naval warfare) and the wooden horse carriage.
It is believed that many of Penang’s heritage buildings were constructed by members of the guild – which in many ways, is akin to an association of building professionals.
In the 19th century, all Cantonese carpenters and builders coming from China would first call at the Carpenters Guild in Penang before proceeding to other parts of the peninsula to work.
While some returned to China after completing their contracts, others settled here and passed on their ancient trade, leaving their descendants to carry on their legacy.
Established in a shophouse in Penang Street in 1886, the guild has since moved to its current premise in Love Lane.
Location of Carpenters Guild (Lo Pan Hon)
70 Love Lane, George Town, Penang Island.