Penang Dragon Boat Festival

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

Marking the 40th anniversary, Penang recently hosted its bi-annual international dragon boat festival in the weekend of 7th – 8th December 2019 at the Teluk Bahang Dam.

There were 14 countries from all over the world, including Malaysia. A total of 1,600 participants of 36 different teams at the event.

Each dragon boats measure 10 metres long for 20 rowers sitting in pairs with a drummer at the front keeping the rowers in sync. In the early years, each dragon boat was elaborately painted to stand out from the other boats, with a decorative huge dragon head on the bow and a tail on the stern. The boats are still painted in bright colours now, although they all look about the same as the race is the main feature of the event and not the boat.

Penang dragon boat festival started as a cultural event by a group of seafaring Chinese settlers on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar before it became a competitive sport in 1979. Steeped in history and tradition based in China over 2000 years ago of a well loved and respected minister of the Imperial Court, Qu Yuan, threw himself in the river after he was banished for opposing the oppressive policies of the Emperor.

Word of his actions rapidly spread through town and his friends rushed to his aid. Unfortunately Qu Yuan was already drowned. To distract the fish from devouring his body and as a sacrifice to his spirit, the people threw rice balls wrapped in reed leaves into the water. This sad legend is commemorated today with dragon boats.

Explore with Uniquely Penang, formerly called Penang Insights.

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