Under the scotching sun in the summer morning of Dragon Boat Festival (端午節), former villagers and outside visitors gather along the the narrow waterways and mangrove channels of Tai O to take part in the annual Dragon Boat Water Parade and Race. The sleepy and somewhat touristy fishing village once again fills with laughter and rhythmic drum beats, reminding elder villagers how vibrant Tai O fishing village used to be decades ago. Now a popular sporting and recreational event that held in many cities around the world, dragon boat is actually originated right here, from the fishing communities in the Pearl River Delta where Hong Kong is located.
In the old days, young men in fishing communities in the region, like Tai O, would volunteer to join the Dragon Boat Festival. While most would enter the boat race, a small group would participate in the religious parade, in which small statues of local deities are brought out from temples and paraded around the village in decorated dragon boats. The dragon ritual is meant to cast away evil spirits in the village with heavy drum beats, synchronized paddling, and incense smoke. Unlike modern dragon boats made of lightweight materials such as fiberglass or carbon fiber, traditional dragon boats are constructed using teak wood. Each 65-ft boat takes 32 paddlers, 2 drummers, 1 gong striker, and 1 steerer. During the Dragon Boat Festival, modern dragon boat races are held in rivers, beaches and the harbour allover Hong Kong. Yet to get a taste of century-old dragon boat tradition, there is no better place than Tai O, where old rituals are still performed every year.
After an hour of ferry and 40 minutes of bus, we finally arrived at Tai O where the Dragon Boat Water Parade was about to begin at 10am. Organizers were busy putting on the last bits of decorations onto the traditional dragon boats.
Flanked both sides by old stilt houses, the main waterways of Tai O provide the best setting for the dragon boat parade.
Decorated deity boat was always led by a long traditional dragon boat.
The Tai Chung Bridge opened up only in the Dragon Boat Festival for the passing deity boats.
The busy Tai Chung Bridge often serves as the visual focus of the entire fishing village of Tai O.
Despite the annual parade, fishermen were still selling fresh seafood right by the waterfront.
Statues of deity from three different temples were brought out for the parade.
Behind the designated dragon boat, the colourful deity boat was led around the waterway network.
Many paddlers of the traditional dragon boats came from the older generation of the local Tai O villagers.
The river mouth served as the main venue for dragon boat races.
Larger fishing boats served as the base of different racing teams.
It was fun to watch the dragon boat race from the spectator jetty at the waterfront.
All paddlers gave their best effort during the dragon boat race.
One of the most important aspect of dragon boat paddling is the quality of their synchronized movements.
The exciting shouts of loyal supporters offers outside visitors a glimpse of the community spirit of Tai O.
At the end, an award ceremony was held at the spectator area.
While the dragon boat race captivated the hearts of spectators at the river mouth, the deity boats and traditional dragon boats continued to parade around Tai O’s waterways.
At around noontime, the dragon boat parade was coming to an end.
Wooden dragon boats were once again put into storage along the waterways.
Until next year’s Dragon Boat Festival, visitors coming to Tai O can visit the small community museum to learn more about the traditions of dragon boat.