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Traditional Boat Racing in Rakhine

According to the ancient Rakhine history chronicle, Rakhine style boat races were celebrated first during the reign of the Rakhine (Arakan) king. Currently, the boat race is held traditionally and annually as a Rakhine sport. To celebrate it, it is essential to know the time of rising tide and ebb tide. Based on this way of rowing, the methods of navigation can be learned and the main basis of good human nature, mental and physical agility, can trained by unity of co-operation.

The size of a racing boat was 18 yards long but nowdays it is 10 yards long. First, it is important to get a good tree to curve it. The presiding monk of the village and the astrologer guide the village and choose a good tree in the nearest forest. The villagers find a much better tree with straight trunk. After getting the tree they need, they return home from the forest. If a tree which is liked is found, a cut is given at the bottom of the tree, clamping it with a piece of wood without felling it down. This is called the clamp of palm of the hand. There are good woods for making boats such as jackfruit wood, “Thinshit” wood, “Myatswar” wood, “Myaukgaung” wood, “malodorous” wood and “ magnolia” wood to make a racing boat. The best of the tree is regarded as the bow of a boat and the stem, and the racing boat is made by cutting and shaping with machetes and axes step by step. The finished racing boat is carried along the river to one’s village by using bamboo or creeper ropes. While making a racing boat, steering oars are made by some other villagers. The racing boats can be borrowed or bought in some places for the race. When a racing boat arrives at the village, it is warmly welcomed with instrumental music and resident dance. That boat is shown in the pavilion, which is newly built on the ground in the central part of the village. Young men from the village keep the boat at night and sleep there as sentries. Every morning, pulling down the boat into the water, practice is done to improve the speed of the boat and the power of its rowers, their unity and so forth. In the bowl of the boat there is a pot called a “ Kinpunoh” . It means lucky pot. Everyone who goes there has to touch it. It is not permitted for women, however. According to the old custom, the Nat (deva) who keeps the village , guardian sprit of tree, is worshipped and other necessary religious stimuli are done. To make a racing boat more wonderful, there are respective symbols drawn with paint such drawings as crocodile, the mythical tiger, snake, and lion with flowing mane. In the stern of the boat, there are floral arabesques drawn and in the two sides of middle part of the boat, the lucky names of King Galon Bird (the mythical king of birds), Brahminy Duck, Nagapyan (flying dragon) and Natmyinpyan (flying horse) etc. are usually written. Boat racing would later became a seasonal festival held in Tagu month (April). But in Ramree Township in southern Rakhine State, it is celebrated in Kason month (May).

On the day of the boat-racing, the boat rowers wear uniforms with strapless bodice. They take their position on their boats, worship “Rwashinma”( the goodness of the village) and the Nat and pray to achieve success. In each boat, flags and awards of achievement are hung. There are flags and exciting antiphonal chants sung and instrumental music on the bank of the stream. The final outcome of the race is decided regionally but in Ramree, a win or a loss is decided by a machine at the finishing line, known as a “Tarwinset”. The machine is hung at the centre of the finishing line with ropes tied to either end. There are knives pointed forward on the bows of the racing boats. When the winning boat’s knife cut the rope of the machine, the fall or rise of particular flags is noticed. The boat can win only if the flag is upright.

In the competition, gongs of gold and silver and awarded. Gold is given for the first prize and silver is given for the second and the third prize. These gongs are hung at the corners of the flags conferred to the winning teams.

The boat race, which indicates that “many hands make light work”, is one of the true conventional heritages of Rakhine State.