Dragon Boat Race in Taiwan (top) and China
Dragon boat races are thought to have originated in China 2500 years ago. Dragon boats were made in the Pearl River Delt of the Guangdog Province. They were traditionally crafted out of teak wood, which was imported from Indonesia. Other types of wood also were used, in different areas of China. Today, boats are made out of carbon fiber and other materials that are lightweight.
The dragon boats are paddled through the water. They are part of a family of paddled long boats that originated in Africa, the Pacific Islands, and Asia. It is a water sport that the people of southern China have taken part in throughout the past 2000 years. However, using these boats for competition started as early as the ancient Greek Olympiad games.
Dragon Boat Race in Vietnam
Though competitive in nature, dragon boats have been used in festivals for centuries. There is a strong component of folk customs and religious ceremony surrounding them. People raced them on the Chang Jiang River and the Dong Ting Lake. Currently, races are held on the fifth day of the fifth Chinese lunar month, which typically is in June, though it can be in May or July. This is known as the annual Duanwu Festival. The day became a national holiday in 2007.
The boats are decorated with typically carved depictions of the tails and heads of dragons. However, these are usually left off when people are training in the boats. The dragon is considered to be special, as it is the only mythical creature of the Chinese zodiac. They have been thought to be the rulers of water on earth, and that they were members of agrarian communities. The festival is held, in large part, to honor this water deity. It also allows the people of China to celebrate the time of summer rice planting. It has long been a part of the agricultural society. It coincides with the time when the sun is highest in the sky, or the Summer Solstice.
Something else that is commonly done is the community with cut out shapes of lizards and other creatures from red paper to place in the mouths of the dragons. They do this as a sort of protection from the pestilence, disease, and other disasters that can affect their crops. This is because they are said to lure the evil spirits.
Dragon boat racing has swept the world, with events being held everywhere from New York to Germany. There actually is an International Dragon Boat Federation, and races are held in which countries compete for the title of champion.
Photos: Shi Yali, Duy Do-VietNam Images, Windmoon / Shutterstock