Crowd participation will be very welcome this Saturday, 28th July, as The Henley Dragons celebrate it’s new racing boat with a naming ceremony – Boaty Mcboatface is not an option – but a rather more superstitious tradition will be followed. Club secretary Cat Cassell tells us all about it…
The Henley Dragons, who are part of the Eyot Centre, have recently accepted delivery of a new racing dragon boat. We are now in the throes of organising a ‘Naming of the Boat’ ceremony to be held on Saturday, 28th July, at 7pm, which is traditionally called ‘Awakening the Dragon’. We thought it would be a great opportunity to invite the public to come and celebrate this with us. We are to hold this event on the riverside at Hobbs of Henley who are sponsoring this event.
By way of background, in ancient China, the Dragon Boat with ornately carved dragon’s head and tail, was used for religious purposes as a way of appeasing the rain gods. The history of dragon boats can be traced back to more than 2,000 years ago, along the banks of the life-sustaining rivers in Southern China, such as the Chang Jiang (now the Yangtze).
There are two main legends popularly related to the custom of racing dragon boats.
Awakening the dragon – Chinese Dragon Boat Festival
The traditional Chinese Dragon Boat Festival is held on the 5th day of the 5th Chinese lunar month (varying from late May to middle June), which is traditionally considered a month of death and disease, evil and darkness, due to the high, summer temperatures (in China). Therefore, venerating the awakening Dragon was meant to avert misfortune and encourage rainfall, needed for the fertility of crops and prosperity of the people.
The Dragon Boat Festival was primarily held as a ceremony to awaken the hibernating ‘Heavenly Dragon’. Sacrifices, sometimes human, were involved in this ritual and it could be a violent clash with the crew members of the competing boats throwing stones and striking each other with cane sticks. Originally, paddlers (or even an entire team) falling into the water could receive no assistance from onlookers as the accident was considered to be due to the will of this ‘Dragon Deity’ and could not be interfered with; and, if people drowned it was considered a sacrifice for the greater good.
Dotting of the Eye Ceremony
The ceremony called ‘Eye Dotting’ or ‘Awakening the Dragon ‘traditionally involves a Taoist priest dotting the protruding eyes of the dragon head carved on the boats, thus ending its slumber. The ceremony is practiced at many Dragon Boat events throughout the world today.
We have invited the new Mayor of Henley, Councillor Glen Lambert, to perform the ‘dotting of the eye’ – awakening of the dragon. The ceremony, in respect to Chinese custom, will open the dragon’s eyes, ward off evil spirits and prepare the river for voyage. The ceremony not only blesses and cleanses the area for competition, but also the spectators and competitors. It is considered very bad luck to paddle or race in a dragon boat that has not been properly awakened or has its eyes closed.
This whole ceremony will be a big celebration and spectacle at the awakening of the dragon. Among the naming, a traditional lion dance will be performed around the boat. We have engaged with the local lion dancers who will be putting on a vibrant, loud and spectacular performance for us, to share in our celebrations.
Everyone is welcome to attend this free evening event, with the ‘dragon awakening’ at 7pm.