Saturday, 30 June 2018

Tanjung Pinang Dragon Boat Race 2018. Sembahyang Keselamatan Pelantar Laut

Tanjung Pinang has two annual dragon boat races - an international race organised by government bodies and another one, a lesser known century old inter-kampung (village) race organised by local communities. This post is about the traditional local inter-village race which I had the privilege to visit recently.

We have to start our dragon boat story with the water villages of Tanjung Pinang. Many people, including the Chinese community, live in such water villages which hug the coastline in Tanjung Pinang.

The humble homes in the villages are built on stilts over the water. The homes are accessed by narrow passageways linking all the houses. They reminded me of similar homes in Kukup, Johor but the water villages in Tanjung Pinang are much more extensive. Most of the Chinese community here are Teochew whose forefathers came from the Chao'an District 潮安区 in Guangdong province, China.

The early settlers from Chao'an built a shrine known as 武聖廟 (Wu Sheng Temple) dedicated to Deity 關羽 (Guan Yu). It was modelled after the 武聖廟 in Chao'an.

It is unclear when the shrine was first built but the inscription engraved on the ceremonial brass 刀 (Guandao) at the temple indicated that it was made during the reign of Qing Emperor Guangxu 光緒 who ruled from 1875 to 1908. The  is 關聖帝君's signature weapon - it's a broad sword 大刀 at the end of a long pole.

Every year, the water villagers celebrate the birthday of 關羽 who is addressed as 關聖帝君. The festivities last 4 days, with the following highlights:

Day 1 - 關聖帝君 takes a boat tour around the island to bless the villagers

Day 2 - Inter-village dragon boat race

Day 3 - Prayers at the temporary temple

Day 4 - 關聖帝君 returns to 武聖廟.

The 武聖廟 altar is empty in this picture (taken on Day 3) as 關聖帝君 was at the temporary temple at Jalan Pelantar III (which is the main street leading from the city into the water village and 武聖廟).

The festivities is known as Sembahyang Keselamatan Pelantar Laut in Indonesian which means Prayers for the Safety of the Sea of Pelantar. As most of the community depend on the sea for their livelihood, the prayers for safety are an important part the villages' heritage for over 130 years. In Chinese, the festival is known as 庆祝關聖帝君千秋 or Birthday Celebration of Deity Guan Yu.

關聖帝君 at the temporary temple at Jalan Pelantar III.

The temporary shrine has bigger grounds so more devotees can visit to offer prayers to 關聖帝君 during Sembahyang Keselamatan Pelantar Laut. (The concept is similar to the 行宫 of the annual Johor Bahru Chingay.)

The more spacious temporary grounds host mediums, a huge dinner and stage performances on Day 1. Devotees continue to offer prayers here till Day 4 when 關聖帝君 returns to the main shrine 武聖廟.

Tanjung Pinang's dragon boat race celebrates the birthday of 關聖帝君 whereas dragon boats are synonymous with 屈原 Qu Yuan and rice dumplings. No one is sure now exactly when Tanjung Pinang's century old dragon boat race first started except that the "dragon boats" used were humble sampans. There was also no viewing/ officials platform which was constructed only later.

View from the viewing/ officials platform. The race circuit is a narrow strip in the water village flanked by water houses.

Many people young and old, and from all communities were out to watch the dragon boat race. It had a carnival atmosphere with mobile hawkers selling ice cream, fried snacks etc.

Many watched the dragon boat race from boats to get up close to the splashing action. Many in the boats were families with small children. Growing up with memories of the dragon boat race becomes a part of the local communities' identity.

Four water villages took part in the dragon boat race. Traditionally, all the communities take part in the festivities, so the rowers and spectators include many from the Malay community.

Drums, gongs and cymbals on a boat provided rousing traditional music to drum up the excitement for the dragon boat race.

Organisers and race officials ready.

The dragon boats were flagged off two at a time from the officials' viewing platform.

The boats dashed down a straight line towards the turning point about 200 metres straight ahead.

The dragon boats swung around at the turning point and headed back to the finish line at the officials platform. The races were always very tight and neck-to-neck as distances were short. The spectator boats waited just beyond the turning point.

Once the dragon boats turned around, the spectator boats followed with sirens blaring to close up with the racers. The way the boats rocked and bobbed in the wake of the dragon boats and spectator boats added to the thrill of the chase.

The short race was repeated several times until the winners were decided.

A post shared by Tony Johor Kaki (@johorkaki) on

The heavens blessed the festivities with the sun painting the sky with beautiful rich red and orange.

The boom and sparkle of fireworks marked the completion of the dragon boat race.

👉 I am grateful for the privilege to observe this over 130 year old tradition of Tanjung Pinang. Hope to make it an annual pilgrimage.

GPS 武聖廟0°55'50.0"N 104°26'46.8"E | 0.930544, 104.446324
GPS Temporary Temple0°55'46.7"N 104°26'42.5"E | 0.929625, 104.445131
GPS Viewing / Officials Platform0°55'50.6"N 104°26'49.6"E | 0.930731, 104.447108

Date: 26-28 Jun 2018

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