Dragon boating on our shores

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

COME FIRST WEEK OF May, expect some paddlers furiously paddling to the beat of drums as the city attempts to set up its first Dragon Boat Competition on May 1-4.

It’s a tall order, but retired General Charly Holganza is hoping that the City Sports Office could pull it off.

It was Holganza who brought in the idea as he endeavors to bring this very popular and highly contested Asian team sport to Mindanao.

“Wala pang dragon boat competitions sa Mindanao. There is already one in Boracay and in Bohol in Visayas,” Holganza said in an earlier interview. This despite the fact that Davao City has diverse offerings that participants will surely enjoy.

They are still in the process of recruiting volunteers, he said, for the competition itself. Those who would want to man the sidelines and help out during the competition proper.

They’re starting small, aspiring only for a national invitation competition. Once the sport gets more attention and participants, then going international can easily be aspired for later on.

“Dragon boating is a sport where Filipinos can excel in, and we have proven that time and again,” Holganza said. “Try dragon boating. It’s not just a vehicle to fame and fortune but a fitness and teamwork exercise as well.”

Originating from China, dragon boats are named because the fore and stern of the boat used in the race were in the shapes of Chinese dragons.

A team of paddlers are lined up one on each side, paddling in perfect synchronization to the beat of the drum by the team member at the front of the boat.

The dragon boat racing was the highlight in the Dragon Boat Festival in China which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

Sources from the internet date the origin of the festival to more than
2,000 years ago, and has been held without fail hence.

“The festival commemorates the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), and also acts as a chance for Chinese people to build their bodies and dispel diseases. Many legends circulate around the festival but the most popular is the legend of Qu Yuan,” the travelchinaguide.com reads.

In the legend of Qu Yuan, it is said that Qu Yuan was a minister of the State of Chu, which was one of the seven warring states before Qin (221BC-206BC) in China’s first feudal dynasty. As a minister, he was strongly against the aggression being manifested by the more powerful State of Qin Qin (one of the seven states during the Warring States Period (476 BC - 221 BC)) together with the State of Qi).

He was sent to exile, after being maligned by an aristocrat Zi Lan. In his exile, he wrote poems to manifest his love for his country and was thus regarded as a famous poet.

“In 278 BC, after finishing his last masterpiece - Huai Sha (Embracing the Sand), he drowned himself in the river rather than see his country occupied and conquered by the State of Qin,” the legend reads.

New of Qu Yuan’s death spread wide and locals came out in great distress. Fishermen brought out their boats to look for his body all along the river while others threw food so as to ensure that fishes are well-fed and will not feast on the poet’s body.

This started the tradition to throw food like egg and zongzi, the sacred food prepared particularly for the Dragon Boat Festival. Zongzi is a pyramid-shaped glutinous rice wrapped in reed or bamboo leaves that has different fillings.

In the northern parts of China, zongzi has jujube as filling, while in the southern parts, these have sweetened bean paste, fresh meat, or egg yolk.

The making of zongzi is a tradition by itself where soaking the glutinous rice, washing the reed of bamboo leaves for wrapping, and wrapping the zongzi approximates a ritual.

It is said that the idea of dragon boat racing emanated from the mad rush to scour the river and look for Qu Yuan’s body by the fishermen.

The legend and origins have since been blurred and at the forefront is the race to win.

In the Philippines, dragon boat took centerstage in 2011 when the Philippine Olympic Commission refused to support the dragon boat team despite ranking in various international dragon boat competitions. This has never been resolved as sports officials insist that dragon boating and canoeing should be one and the same entity.

The victories of the dragon boat team composed mostly of military men, were even belittled by sports officials who claim there are so many gold medals to be won in such a competition, winning some is not a big deal.

For Holganza, dragon boat is a sport that Filipinos can easily excel in as there is the endless expanse of sea to practice on, and no other sport infrastructure required except the purchase of a competition-grade dragon boat.

With many poor communities located along water bodies, the activity can also easily attract and entice youths from poor communities to aspire to be part of a dragon boat team.

Those interested to join the dragon boat association or volunteer for the dragon boat competition, get in touch with Ruth Balani at 0917-710-8627 or Clang Calolot at 0918-991-7038 or visit the Facebook Page of the Davao Dragon Boat Association for downloadable registration forms.

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