Tai O 大澳 “The Venice of the East” celebrates the Dragon Boat Festival

Tai O is a fishing town located in Lantau Island of Hong Kong. It has a history of producing salt and is recorded as salt marshes. This is a place full of natural sceneries such as mountains, trees, flowers and grass to match with the unusual structure of the dilapidated stilt-houses. Its reputation is the “Venice of the East”.

There are two unique cultures in Tai O. 

A salt production area was Tai O’s unique culture. There were plenty of white colored salt marshes everywhere. However due to the young generation moving out to Hong Kong Island, the labour force is decreasing. It leads the closure od the salt industry.

Tai O was also famous for its salted fish industry. Since Tai O was a fishing village with abundant of fishes fishermen made salted fishes from fresh after catching them. The salted fish were top quality. Although you can still find many salted fished in the market. All the product are imported.

Today, Tai O is mostly inhabited by Tankas or boat people – a nomadic southern Chinese ethnic group who first settled there over two centuries ago, having previously lived on junks in the South China Sea. Though many now live onshore in stilt houses, some of the older ‘sea gypsies’ still live on their boats. People flock to Tai O, the so-called ‘Venice of Hong Kong,’ to soak up the village’s maritime heritage and fishing lore.

Tai O comprises an intriguing maze of small alleys and footpaths, and its buildings are usually interconnected, mirroring the tight-knit  community that lives on and above the water. Wander down Tai Ping Street and you can visit the tiny workshop of Nam Mo Gong, the only remaining Nam Mo in Tai O.

The Dragon’s Boat Festival in Tai O

Tai O Dragon Boat Festival is a religious activity in Tai O. The activity originates in the 19th Century when a plague happened in Tai O. The villagers at that time organize a religious activity known as Deities Parade. The event is organised by three fishermen associations in Tai O. The deity statue was placed on the boat to parade through Tai O waters. As a result the plague had stopped.

Dragon Boat Racing, Tai O, 1978

On the morning before the festival, the participating fishermen row out their dragon boats to visit four temples — Yeung Hau, San Tsuen Tin Hau, Kwan Tai and Hung Shing – and carry the deity statues from these temples to their associations' halls for worship. On the day of the festival, the deity statues are put on sacred sampans and towed by the dragon boats in a parade through the waters of Tai O to pacify the wandering water ghosts. Many residents of the stilt houses that are sprinkled along the watercourses burn paper offerings as the dragon boats pass by. The deity statues are then returned to their respective temples after the ritual.

The festivities vary from region to region, but they usually share several features. A memorial ceremony offering sacrifices to a local hero is combined with sporting events such as dragon races, dragon boating and willow shooting; feasts of rice dumplings, eggs and ruby sulphur wine; and folk entertainments including opera, song and unicorn dances. The hero who is celebrated varies by region: the romantic poet Qu Yuan is venerated in Hubei and Hunan Provinces, Wu Zixu (an old man said to have died while slaying a dragon in Guizhou Province) in South China, and Yan Hongwo in Yunnan Province among the Dai community. Participants also ward off evil during the festival by bathing in flower-scented water, wearing five-colour silk, hanging plants such as moxa and calamus over their doors, and pasting paper cut-outs in their windows.

The Tai O Dragon Boat Festival had been inscribed on to China’s third national list of intangible cultural heritage in 2011. It strengthens bonds within families and establishes a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature. It also encourages the expression of imagination and creativity, contributing to a vivid sense of cultural identity.

Are you planning to go to the Dragon's Boat Festival ?

 


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