Customs of the Malaysian Dragon Boat Festival

端午节
(Image Source:Pixabay)

【Writer: Lee Eng Kew】

Early Dragon Boat Festival customs brought from China include worshipping ancestors and deities, making rice dumplings, hanging calamus and picking mugwort, bathing with noon water, dragon boat races and so on. The Nyonya ethnic group has also combined the local soaking of cold powder (bedak) with the Dragon Boat Festival.

The custom of hanging calamus varies from place to place, but usually five plants - calamus, mugwort, garlic, beetroot and ginger - are hung from the lintel with red thread. Some use calamus, wormwood and palm leaves. Calamus and mugwort are the most commonly used. The leaves of calamus are sword-shaped, and swords are considered sacred weapons in Taoism for driving out evil spirits, so it is believed that calamus has the effect of warding off evil spirits. However, the custom of hanging calamus and mugwort in Malaysia has gradually declined since the 1990s for many reasons, mainly because modern people do not appreciate traditional customs, secondly, calamus is rare, it grows near water. People used to plant it to sell, but gradually it became rare and difficult to find. In the past, during the Dragon Boat Festival, some people would pick mugwort leaves, dry them and have them made into moxa sticks, and burn them on aching joints, which is very effective in relieving pain.

There is a good reason for hanging calamus and mugwort, as mentioned above. The Dragon Boat Festival is close to the summer solstice, the time when Yang Qi is at its peak, and the medicinal properties of the herbs are particularly strong at this time of year, making them the best to harvest. They are also used to repel insects and prevent diseases, as they are traditional Chinese medicines with a strong aroma that insects do not eat.

The water is considered "sacred water" by the people during the Dragon Boat Festival at noon (11:00 to 13:00). The water taken from the river at noon on that day can be kept for a long time and does not go bad. As the saying goes, those who bathe with noon water become beautiful, and those who drink noon water become slim and gorgeous.

Baba Nyonya and many Chinese families choose this day to soak rice grains in water known as "fula" (the Hokkien translation of the Malay word "bedak", commonly known as cooling powder), which is made from rice grains soaked in noon water and sealed in a bottle or urn. It is usually left to soak for a year and then taken out the following year for the Dragon Boat Festival to rinse the rice grains. After many rinses, until it no longer smells and can be ground into powder, it is then drained with a cloth, made into small cubes, dried and stored with pandan leaves or jasmine flowers. To use it, simply take a small piece of it, mix it with water and apply it to your face. The longer the rice grains are soaked, the cooler they will be on your face. There is also a folk custom of “roasted noon tea”, which is a mixture of herbs roasted and kept dry, which can be drunk as a tea to cure colds and fevers when you feel unwell.

As for dragon boat races, they are usually organized by the government, and the Penang government organizes dragon boat races almost every year.

赛龙舟
(Image Source:Pixabay)

Looking at the various customs of the Dragon Boat Festival in Malaysia, only a minority of people still hang calamus or mugwort, many people do not even know the custom of noon water, soaking powder is becoming rare, and only ancestor worship and the tradition of eating rice dumplings are still common, and dragon boat races can still be seen in Penang and other places.

Dragon Boat Festival is usually very hot and sunny. The ancestors created a custom that contains wisdom to be performed to avoid heat-related diseases. The custom of drinking or bathing with noon water is not only in line with hygiene. It is also effective in reducing body heat.

#万富 #继承传统

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