Teak boats, rice & legends
I’m a pretty big Dragon Boat enthusiast, which is fully exhibited in the fact that I made a whole free youtube documentary about Dragon Boat competitors in Taiwan. But what’s not covered in the movie that I made is the “why” of the whole thing.
Here they are, these passionate men and women rowing their hearts out, but why do they do it in a huge old teak boat?
Why is their a large wooden dragon’s head at the front weighting the whole thing down?
And what’s up with all the little triangles of rice? What do they have to do with anything?
Like most ancient histories, the myth and the legend are as entwined as the string holding a steamy zhongzi together as it cooks.
A Hungry Dragon & A Divided China
The Dragon Boat festival, or Dwan Wu, is usually held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar and marks the beginning of the summer solstice.
Over two thousand years ago, at the end of the Zhou dynasty Qu Yuan, a minister for the local government, was exiled to the countryside in a betrayal by his fellow ministers. While there, he learned of invading forces that would go on to conquer his region and unite the rest of China. He found the biggest rock on the rivers by the village and threw himself, and the rock, into the bottom of the river. The villagers were horrified by this, and immediately took to their boats, slapping the water with their paddles and and throwing rice into the river, hoping to keep the fish from eating the fallen hero. The spirit of Qu Yuan came to the villagers and said that in actuality, a powerful river dragon was eating all of the rice being sent down. To prevent this, he told them to wrap their rice in small triangular silk packages, fooling the dragon, but not the fish.
Over the years, silk got replaced by leaves, a for more appetizing ingredient, and zhongzi became a popular delicacy inextricably linked with the Dragon Boat Festival. Don’t fret, though, you can find zhongzi-makers year round in chinese restaurants and food stalls the world over. Try the one made with peanuts; it’s awesome if you’re not allergic!
To this day, people load into these large, cumbersome teak boats with their weighty dragon heads and paddle against each other on lakes & rivers throughout asian countries and the rest of the world.
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