Special Miao Tradition: What is Canoe Dragon Boat Festival?

Special Miao Tradition: What is Canoe Dragon Boat Festival?

2022-08-25 BY Gaby Lin


(Source: Xinhua News)

Over 40 dragon boats assembled and raced intensively on the Qingshui River on June 23, pushing the annual Canoe Dragon Boat Festival of the Miao ethnic group to the climax. 

The four-day-long festival was held from the 22nd to the 25th of June this year in Shidong Town, Taijiang County of southwest China’s Guizhou Province. It has nothing to do with the Han Dragon Boat Festival, which commemorates the death of the Chinese poet Qu Yuan. 

The Miao dragon boat festival, which dates back thousands of years, commemorates the slaying of a bloodthirsty dragon by a local fisherman in retaliation for the dragon’s fatal attack on his son. 

According to folklore, the dead dragon later appeared in the Miao people’s dreams and made a request, asking them to build a boat out of Chinese fir in the shape of its body and row it on the nearby rivers. In exchange, the dragon promised to bring rain and bless the land with a bountiful harvest.  

(Source: Xinhua News)

Therefore, modern Miao people celebrate the festival every year to pray for good weather and a bumper harvest. However, some people believes that the celebration is also important for praying for the continuity of the family lineage.

In keeping with tradition, the festival starts from the 24th to the 27th of the fifth lunar month. It consists of four separate ceremonies, which are “Inviting Dragon,” “worshipping the dragon,” “celebrating,” and “launching”.

But preparation begins days before the celebration. Villagers from Shidong Town and the surrounding areas will prepare food such as rice wine, cured meats and fresh ducks in advance as a gift to cheer on the race’s participants.

When the festival begins, dragon boats belonging to each village will be taken out from their special shelters and outfitted with specially decorated dragon heads that have horns and red pendants. The boat will then be pushed onto the river with pomp and ceremony by the respected elder who is in charge of organizing the race. 

On race day, each team will wear purple jackets, blue trousers, and golden bamboo hats, with silver belts around their waists. The rest of the villagers will dress up in their best holiday attire and gather by the river bank to cheer on their favorite team, as well as toast the benevolent dragon to ask for happiness and good fortune for the coming year.

(Source: Xinhua News)

Following the race, all dragon heads will be returned to their place of reverence in the village elder’s home, where they will be carefully disassembled. The locals will then gather for a firework show and village feast to celebrate the successful completion of yet another Dragon Canoe Festival.