Sun, Jun 10, 2001 - Page 17 News List

Dragon boats open their eyes

With the eye dotting ceremony this afternoon, the dragon boats taking part in the Taipei International Dragon Boat Race Championships will be ready for the big race

By Lynn Lee  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Tsuyoshi Kano from Japan, a member of the CCLC team who has been participating for three years now, gives three reasons for rejoining: "First, it's a great place to meet a lot of new friends. Second, the cultural aspects and traditions behind the races are so deep and meaningful, and it's great to be a small part of that. Finally, the overall experience and the feeling of accomplishment when it's done -- it's a great memory to take back to Japan of my stay here in Taiwan."

Ancient traditions

The Dragon Boat Festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month -- which falls on June 25 this year -- and is filled with many ancient customs and rituals.

Dragon boats are a very important feature of the festival and were originally used as part of an elaborate ceremony for supplicating the water gods to prevent floods and other natural disasters. Later, they also became associated with the death of the poet Chu Yuan (屈原) in 290BC, who drowned himself in the Milo River of Hunan Province (湖南省). The beating of drums and splashing of oars which are so much part of dragon boat racing were originally intended to scare away fish who might desecrate the poet's body.

Tradition dictates that before a dragon boat can be used in a race, the eyes on the dragon's head adorning the prow of every boat must first be opened. This is done several weeks before the race itself in a special ceremony.

The ceremony to open the eyes of the dragon is presided over by a Taoist priest. Ringing a bell and burning incense, he first blesses the boats, and then race officials daub a bit of red paint onto each dragon's eyes to "open" them. This is followed by lion dances and other performances as the dragon boats are carried to the river by the various teams. The boats are paddled up and down the racecourse as fire crackers, sticky rice cakes and ghost money are thrown into the water, in part as offerings to the River God, in part to commemorate the spirit of Chu Yuan.

The eye-dotting ceremony for the Taipei International Dragon Boat Race Championships will be held today between 1pm and 3 pm, at the Tachia section of the Keelung River beneath the Tachih Bridge. Traditionally, the mayor of Taipei presides over the ceremony, and everyone is invited to come down and join the fun.

The Taipei International Dragon Boat Race Championships will be held on the three-day weekend of the festival itself, June 23-25. During the festival, aside from the races, which will take place between 8am and 5pm every day, the Taipei City Government will be organizing numerous other activities for spectators, such as kungfu and taichi performances, lion dances and folk art and handicraft exhibitions.

Dragon boat races in major cities and counties

For more information about the Taipei City races, check the offical bilingual Chinese-English Web site for this year's competition at http://dragon2001.nihs.tp.edu.tw

Chiayi County 嘉義縣

Date: June 25

Contact: (05) 362-0123

Changhua County 彰化縣

Date: June 23-25

Contact: (04) 722-2151 ext. 1051

or (04) 777-2668

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