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Dragon Boat Resurrection

The Dragon Boat that sinks every year

05·20·2014

Dragon Boat Resurrection

The Dragon Boat that sinks every year

05·20·2014

If I dumped a massive piece of wood in a lake in the hope of coming back to pick it up a year later, people would, no doubt, think I had permanently taken leave of my senses… Well, it seems that such people might actually be wrong. Nineteen days before this year’ s Dragon Boat Festival, villagers in Huanglian Village (勒流黄连涌口), Foshan City, Guangdong Province, were busy preparing a crucial part of the festival: Lifting their dragon boat from the bottom of the river bed where it has been resting for the past year. And, no, the boat hadn’t sunk a year earlier, but had been deliberately put under water for preservation–mind-boggling stuff. The boat is made of Hopea spp., a heavy, rot-resistant wood that becomes stronger and more solid when immersed in water. Keeping the dragon boat under water actually protects it from cracking and deteriorating in the sun and the wind. Sinking the boat every year works pretty well too: the boat is 150 years old and is still in great shape. The vessel was built in the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911), runs as long as 26 meters, and can hold up to 34 grown men.

The lifting of dragon boat is, naturally, a local event worthy of  much celebration. Near the Dragon Boat Hollow (龙船窦) where the boat is hidden, incense and candles are burned, sacrificial offerings made, and a large string of firecrackers are lit for the boat’s annual resurrection. Although, this time around it was a partially cloudy day and a light shower hit the area, the villagers were ecstatic. “The rain is good omen which means the weather will be favorable for the crops the following year,” said a villager.

After 3 pm, when the water level dropped, 15 men jumped into the river. They lifted sand bags off the boat and pulled up the wooden sticks used to fix the boat in place. Using just ropes and man power, after 40 minutes of careful maneuvering and forceful pushing, the boat was shaken loose from the muddy river bed, and lifted above water, with mud and water gradually cleared from the cabin. Though it was tough work, the men seemed to have a rip-roaring time raising the boat (as our photo gallery attests). However, an additional cleaning and full maintenance has to wait for the time being, first, the villagers have to take the dragon boat for a test run, to the beats of the dragon drum and cheering of the crowd.

Photographs by Meng Qingchun (孟庆春)

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This year’s Dragon Boat Festival falls on June 2. For more info on the festival, please read “Poets, Dragons, and Water Demons!”, “Makin’ Zongzi” and “Everything you need to know about Dragon Boat Festival”