The Miao Dragon-Boat Festival

 The Dragon-Boat Festival is the most important celebration of the Miao people, who live along the Qingshui Rwerin southeastem Guizhou Province. Every year between 30,000 and 40,000 Miaos participate in the festivities.

In the eyes of the Miaos, the dragon is a symbol of good luck. Girls like to adorn their hair with silver omaments shaped like dragons and wear clothes embroidered or woven with dragon patterns.

The Miaos build exquisite"dragon boats," which are in reality a body formed from three canoes-one large and two small-that are strung together. A carved head, painted red, blue, or yellow, is made from the trunk of a weeping willow tree. It is 2 meters long and sports a pair of horns. A special shelter in seven parts, extending 28 meters, to house dragon boatshas been built in every Miao village along the Qingshui River from Pingzhao in Shibing county to Liuhe in Taijiang county.

The Miao Dragon-Boat Festivalis celebrated from the 24th to the 27th ofthe fifth lunar month. But according to local custom, people are allowed to send their dragon boats down the river after the 16th, provided that they have finished weeding their fields. The earlier appearance of the boats onthe river tesifies to the villagers' efficiency, and conscientious peasants con-sider it a shame not to finish weeding before the festivities begin.

During the festival, each family makes r:ice wine and zongba (a kind of dump-ling made of glutinous rice) and calls on friends and relatives. Married womenvisit their parents' homes bearing gifts-zongba, geese, and ducks.

In each boat, an old man rides straddling the dragon's neck. He is the mostrespected man in the village, chosen by the villagers to be the coxswain. Wearing a gown and a mandarinjacket, the old man beats a drum to set the pace for the oarsmen, and severalboys about 10 years of age, wearmg dresses,beat drums and gongs. The oarsmen, 40 in all, wield 5-foot-long wooden oars. These powerful-looking men wear horsetail-shaped hats, blue jacketsand trousers, and embroidered waistbands pinned with silver ornaments. The hats, traditionally dowry gifts for girls from the upper reaches of theQingshui River, have become an essential feature of the costumes worn bythe dragon-boat oarsmen.

The Miao Dragon-Boat Festival differs from the Han celebration. They are not celebrated on the same date (the Hans' takes place on the fifth day of thefifth lunar month), and they follow different traditions. While the Hans only hold dragon-boat races during the festival, the Miaostake the opportunity to visit friends and relatives. Before a dragon-boat setsout, somebody sings an auspicious song to the boatmen, wishing them agood voyage. Young men set out in boats early in the morning. When they approach a village, they fire guns to announce their arrival. The villagers setoff firecrackers in response and then go to meet them. The hosts present twocups of rice wine to each oarsman and then tie gifts for their relatives-ducks, geese, and colored silks-onto the heads of the dragons. The tradi-tional gifts for, uncles, and nephews are pigs or sheep.

At 4 p.m. the boats stop alongside the riverbank. The drummers and oars~men on the boats eat glutinous rice balls and meat with their fingers. Womenand children on the shore ask the boatmen to share their food. It is said thateating food from a dragon-boat protects one from disaster and gives goodluck.

Horse races and bullfights are held during the festival. Girls in holiday dress dance to the accompaniment of drums. It is not unusual for young people to meet their future spouses at the songfests held on festival nights.

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