|Boat racing at the Festival.|
From boat racing…
There are many special customs and rituals at the festival, such as edict and palanquin processions of families and feast and fruit tray contests. However, the most attractive features of Hao Xa pagoda festival are folk games, typically boat racing.
The boat racing festival takes place on the 6th day of the first lunar month on the river section in front of the pagoda. Competitors are both men and women from five hamlets in the commune.
Right from early in the morning, thousands of people from everywhere eagerly flock to the place. Racing boats are made of light wood, slender, and long. On each boat are six pairs of rowers, one steersman, and one cox both beating phach (a traditional instrument made of bamboo and wood sticks) to make signals and bailing water. Members of teams wear headbands and traditional festival clothing or sportswear.
Spectators tightly stand several hundred meters along the riverbanks. The organizing board’s stage is placed on the other side of the river for convenient monitoring and grading. Erected in the starting and finishing positions are bamboo poles connected to each other by strings for track division.
Preparing for the competition, the racing boats parade on the water before moving to their regulated starting positions. At this time, the rowers on the boats are ready to row, forcing the steersmen to hold his steering in one hand and the starting pole in the other to retain the boats.
Right after the order announcement, the boats rush ahead like arrows in urging drumbeats and encouraging cheers. The rowers paddle with all their might so that their boats are the fastest. At this time, they can only hear the coxes’ shouts and slow and fast phach sounds. The steersmen must not only be conscious but also skillfully steer at turns or solve their rivals’ hindrance and pressure.
The most exciting moment is when the boats reach the finish line. Spectators on the riverbanks not only shout but also noisily run along the boats cheering enthusiastically.
The boat racing is always a competition containing surprises. In the men’s boat racing this year, a leading team was careless when approaching a turn, causing its boat to overturn and sink deep. The boat of women from hamlet 3 outstandingly passed turns and quickly reached the finish line but rocked and sank while greeting the audience, making everyone split their sides with laughter.
“I like the boat racing the most at Hao Xa pagoda festival. It is a dramatic folk game making spectators palpitate. Despite a busy job, I still come to see every boat racing at the festival,” said Nguyen Hai An in Thanh Ha district town.
Legend has it that the boat racing at Hao Xa pagoda festival dates from the Tran dynasty, right after the death of three thanh hoang (tutelary gods) of the village. The competition retraces thanh hoang’s merit of teaching the people to row and shows chivalry. With rowing talent, male and female rowing teams of Hao Xa win district and provincial prizes every year.
… to rice cooking and duck catching contests
Along with the boat racing, Hao Xa pagoda festival also includes two contests that any attendee can never forget, namely rice cooking on boats and duck catch.
The contest of cooking rice on boats can be seen as an advanced form of the boat racing at Hao Xa pagoda festival. Only three teams winning the first, second, and third prizes of the boat racing are entitled to attend this contest.
The rules of the game are quite simple. The three teams set up cookers on their boats and cook through the rice prepared in advance in earthenware pots within 20 minutes. The rice pots are coated with clay to avoid water penetration. Each cooker is a big oiled bamboo spill. The teams splash water to extinguish their rivals’ fires or shake their rivals’ boats to make them rock or overturn. The team successfully prevents its cooker from falling and completes rice cooking first is the winner.
After the rice cooking contest, the duck catching one gives viewers cheery laughter. Boats gather in front of the stage before the organizing board tosses a duck into the river. Immediately, teams control their boats to encircle the duck. To win, the teams’ members do not hesitate to jump into the water to catch the duck.
The duck catching competition is attended by many tourists. As a rule, the duck must be caught in the river, and successful catches of the duck on the banks do not count. Therefore, whenever the duck fearfully runs ashore, tourists will shout driving it back to the river.
Leaving Hao Xa pagoda festival, everyone is excited and a bit regretful because they can only be immersed in this jubilant festive atmosphere again next year.