The legend of Qu Yuan is re-enacted by crews of paddlers every year on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. They power long, narrowboats, prowessed by powerful dragon heads in the water, to a furious and rhythmic torch of drums.
The dragon boat race custom started in southern China where the Warring States era saw dragon boat races as far back as 2000 years ago (402-221BC). Originally a folk ritual designed to appease the rain gods, encourage rainfall, and celebrate summer rice planting, it was founded by fishermen in the south of central China along the River Yangtze.
The dragon was the main symbol on the totem because the Chinese believe that they are sons of the dragon. Later the Chinese connected this ceremony with the Duanwu Festival. This festival activity is only held in southern China, where it has varying levels of popularity. Dragon Boat Race events are popular in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The Dragon Boat Festival includes seven groups, some men and women, others with mixed sports. Some need large boats of approximately 12 m in length, others need only small boats of approximately 6,5 m.
A drummer and a steerer must be in place for each fiberglass boat. The cover is 500 m mainly graded, but the main race has an amazing 1.000 m long.
Interestingly, they also have a traditional food that has been part of this festival. Each family eats zongzi to celebrate Qu Yuan on the morning of the festival. Zongzi is a type of sweet, bamboo rice dumpling. This is made from different fillings of sticky rice. One day before the festival, people usually prepare zongzi.
There are still many coastal board settlements in Penang, such as the old Bang Liaw Jetty in Weld Quay, which is renowned for their settlements in Penang by immigrants from China.
These communities that lived literally on the edge of George Town, could not have known that the race they celebrated with such great enthusiasm would one day become one of the greatest sea events in the area.
Tin Media wishes duan wu an kang to the Chinese Community in Malaysia.
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