Dragon Boat Festival: 1. Origin

Posted: 2014 年 05 月 20 日 in Dragon Boat Festival
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Dragon Boats from Antiquity

The Dragon Boat Festival is the biggest event of the summer. On the fifth day of the fifth moon (generally falling between May 28 and June 28), the summer season becomes official. Ancestors and gods must be honored, lest they lose their tempers during the dog days to come. The big event is the dragon boat race. Teams race against one another in long sculls decorated with a dragon’s head on the bow.

The story of this festival concerns a famous scholar-statesman named Chu Yuan (屈原), who served the King of Chu (楚) in the time of the warring states (戰國時代, 403-221 B.C.) He incurred the displeasure of the king and was exiled. Chu Yuan lived the life of a hermit and became an excellent poet. But on the fifth day of the fifth month, he became so frustrated that he threw himself into the Milo River (汨羅江) in Hunan province (湖南省). Knowing him as an upright and honest man, the people rushed to the river to save him. All vied to get there first, and the dragon boat races commemorate this attempt.

Unfortunately, it was too late and Chu Yuan drowned. But the peasants threw cooked rice into the water to comfort his spirit. Later, they wrapped the rice in bamboo leaves. This started another custom. On the fifth day of the fifth moon, rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves are a favored food.

Dragon Boat Festival time is not the housewife’s delight. The house must be thoroughly cleaned. Realgar is used to disinfect the premises and a pinch of it goes into the festival food as an extra precaution. Air is sweetened with aromatic herbs to please the spirits and keep them in a friendly mood.

Poison Month

The fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar marks the beginning of the hot weather in Taiwan. It’s also the time when the heat brings the threat of disease. So, on the first day of summer, the people used to go out into the country to gather a variety of herbs believed to have cooling protective properties. These were brewed into a fragrant soup. But the soup wasn’t made for drinking. Instead, it was used for bathing in the hopes of aiding the body’s defenses against the merciless heat.

In a similar custom, people would draw water from their wells precisely at noon on the day of the Dragon Boat holiday. This water was stored in an earthenware jug in a dark corner where it was supposed to acquire special curative powers. The noon waters (午時水) from Taichung’s Tieh Chan Mountain (鐵砧山) were believed to be especially potent in warding off summer plagues.

 

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