During the pre-colonial times, Chinese merchants paddled long boats, more commonly known as dragon boats. This been one of Asia’s best kept traditions and has been around for thousands of years tracing its roots back to ancient southern China.
What started as Chinese villagers’ ancient folk ritual has evolved to influence the rest of the world. In recent years, the Philippines relished its share of golden moments in international dragon boat competitions, making its name as a top contender in the event.
Late it might be for Mindanao to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of holding its own dragon boat competition, Butuan City has just recently started, shall we say, its own dragons rowing.
Bringing the tradition to the place known for its ancient Balanghai boats was something else. Butuan City neither had dragon boats floating in the mighty Agusan River before nor were there any discovered in the historic digging sites.
I haven’t seen yet an actual dragon boat race and have only seen such competitions on television so it was a thrill for me to witness the newly formed dragon boat teams in training for the first ever competition in Butuan in August.
Father Saturnino Urios University (FSUU) vice president Rev. Fr. Chito Butardo initially came up with the idea and spearheaded the campaign to raise people’s support in promoting awareness on the preservation of Agusan River, the country’s third largest water basin.
FSUU then convinced other schools and the city and the local government units to be part of the effort and come up with their own boats and teams for the higher purpose of saving the river and its fragile eco-system.
Thucyoides C. Sadiasa, Agusan Colleges (AC) chairman of the board and Dr. Candy Estacio, Butuan Doctors College (BDC) assistant administrative officer, with their respective student dragon boat trainees, joined in the training. Both said that the promotion of awareness in saving the river and their environmental advocacy is not just for the school but also for the rest of the city. With the activity, they hope to put life back into the river, creating awareness not just amongst their group but also for other institutions to step in to help save the river.
For two weeks, beginning July 17, students and school staff from the three schools underwent intensive training from experienced racers of the Philippine National Police (PNP) national dragon boat team, the Patriots. The schools hoped that the training would give enough experience, knowledge, and skills for the novice boat racers to carry on the tradition especially after their PNP trainers are done with their program.
The enthusiasm and excitement in the eyes of the students were contagious. With the help of the Butuan City Search and Rescue Team or BUSART we joined the teams in the river though we rode in a fiberglass speedboat. The boat might be a different ride but being in the same waters as the teams were while taking photographs was just as exhilarating.
You can feel the excitement and dedication of the students to learn and be part of something different. When interviewed, most of them said that it was the experience and the bragging rights to be called Mindanao’s first dragon boat racers that pushed them to join their respective teams. Others said they just want to enjoy the moment and participate in a different type of sports activity.
For whatever reasons they all might have, I envy their youth and the pride each and every one carried with them while they were on the river.
Soon, the Butuan City government, which just received its boat, will also join in the training. Its team will consist of volunteers from the different agencies within the LGU. Hopefully, the forthcoming first dragon boat race in Northern Mindanao promises to be a fun, vibrant, and worthwhile sports event.