5 traditional taboos during Dragon Boat Festival

5 taboos traditionally observed during Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon boat race in Taipei.

Dragon boat race in Taipei. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Today (June 18) is the official day of the Dragon Boat Festival on the lunisolar calendar and in addition to the dragon boat races and the eating of zongzi, there are five taboos traditionally observed on this day, according to two experts who spoke to Apple Daily Hong Kong.

In an interview with Apple Daily, Leo Sia (施志明), Director of the Society of Hong Kong History and Desmond K.C. Wong (黃競聰), Deputy Executive Director of The Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage (CACHe), listed the following five taboos that were traditionally observed for centuries during the Dragon Boat Festival, though many no longer hold true today:

1. The eyes must be "lit up"

When a new dragon boat is launched, a "dragon drinking" ceremony must be held to bring the dragon to life. A priest will carry out a ritual which includes using chicken blood to paint the eyes of the dragon. Only after the eyes have been painted with chicken blood and the drums sound, can the dragon boat truly come to life.

Stanley Kao (高碩泰), Taiwan's representative to the U.S. "lighting" dragon's eyes. (TECRO FB)

2. Women not allowed

Traditionally, it was believed that because dragon boats were a protector of the gods, women were not allowed to paddle the boats for hundreds of years, as they were considered unclean due to their monthly menstruation cycle. Phoenix boats were devised for women to race instead. However, this taboo has been phased out and it is very common and acceptable to see women participating in dragon boat races nowadays.

Penghu Dragon Boat race. (CNA image)

3. Men with pregnant wives must not touch

Men whose wives are pregnant are traditionally warned not to touch the dragon because it is believed that it has "killer Qi" (殺氣) which could potentially harm the unborn fetus.

(Image from flickr user See-ming Lee)

4. Those with recent deaths in family much not touch

Those who have experienced a death in their family are admonished to avoid touching the dragon boat for a full month.

Intense race between two teams. (CNA image)

5. No shoes allowed

It was traditionally disrespectful to wear shoes or slippers on the dragon boat because they are considered unclean objects. All passengers were expected go barefoot before boarding the boat.

Drummer in front of boat in foreground is barefoot. (Dragon boat race Tainan, CNA image)

The experts emphasized that most of these taboos have fallen out of favor in modern times, however the rules surrounding the special eye "lighting" ceremony (酬神龍舟) are still extremely strict.

Now acceptable for women to participate in dragon boat races. (CNA)