Cuff

About this object

History of use

Grass-cutting was an important activity for women in Tsuen Wan District and elsewhere in the New Territories until about the 1950s. Women gathered in groups, often divided by age range, to go up into the hills to cut large amounts of bracken which was used as fuel for cooking food for people and for pigs. They piled the bracken up to dry, and then bundled it using hand-made rope attached to a wooden hook which allowed them to bind the bracken firmly. To protect their hands from being scratched, they wore hand-protectors either woven of flat rattan or sewn of canvas. In addition to the sickle, their fundamental tool was a carrying pole made of dense hardwood, pointed at both ends. One end was sheathed in iron so that the pole could be stuck upright in the ground and thereby not lost in the underbrush. This also prevented it from rolling down the hill. When a woman had made two bundles of bracken (the Chinese name of which was not distinguished from grass) she stabbed them with the ends of the pole in order to carry them down from the hillside. The wooden end was stabbed in first, and then the metal end, which was easier, was stabbed into the other bundle. It was usual for women to carry more than their own weight in the large bundles of grass, regardless of whether or not they were pregnant. The bracken was used as fuel in the large brick range that each house had. One or two large woks were inserted in holes in the top. Pine branches were another source of fuel. This fuel was also sometimes sold if a household had surplus. People with a special need for it were the boat-dwelling fishing people, who owned no land and need to burn it to bream their boats on a regular basis. After the mid-twentieth century the New Territories of Hong Kong began to undergo fundamental changes. The people who had been settled there before 1898, when the British colonizers claimed the area, began to give up rice agriculture and coastal fishing, turning instead to wage labour and increased employment overseas. By the end of the century, educational opportunities leading to the possibility of white-collar work also increased, together with western influences. Twentieth-century changes meant that objects and clothing once useful and appropriate were no longer needed and generally were discarded. Some were saved by their owners, who sometimes were willing to donate them to museums, sharing, also, their knowledge of how they were made and used.

Narrative

Hakka people are one of the two original land-dwelling groups that settled the area that became the New Territories of Hong Kong. Their spoken language, and some customs, differed from those of the other original group, the Cantonese or Punti. The Cantonese arrived first and settled on the best rice-growing lands, while the Hakka began to arrive after the late 17th century and settled the more hilly lands.

Specific techniques

These cuffs were machine-sewn.

Physical description

Pair of cuffs, each an off-white cotton tube with blue edging at the opening for the hand, which scoops back towards the arm at the inner wrist. There is a blue fabric finger loop at the centre top.