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Chindwin boat battles

Chindwin-1 Getting ready for a boat battle. Photos - Supplied

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23 Aug 19 - Source: Myanmar Times - "Waso-Wagaung, the rivers swell with the rising tide, let's go gather the ripe rose apple. From the thorny bush, the big black leech will stick to us," so goes the saying, when all the rivers and streams are full of water from the rains of Waso-Wagaung.

The residents of the villages along the Chindwin River in upper Myanmar sing this song during the ye gyi khar ("time of the flood"). It's the height of the rainy season, when the river is at its highest.

During ye gyi khar the river and lakes full of small boats, steered by young men collecting pieces of wood and bamboo flushed out of the smaller streams during the high tide.

According to a proverb, if the wind blows from the south there will be less rain, so stay dry and catch the southerly breeze when looking for drift wood and tinder.

Some boats men and women sell the wood on the river bank, providing them with extra money during the ye gyi khar season.

Aside from venturing out to collect branches, bamboo and other pieces of wood, these villagers have another unique tradition during the high tide season: capsising each others' boats.

After their work is done, and the rivers cleared of debris, boats of ten to five people venture out onto the river again and race. Not content to beat each other to the finishing line, they also enjoy the jostle that comes from trying to overturning their rivals' boats.

Excluding the elders, every age group participates in the water-laden fun.

This boating tradition is practiced by villages along the western banks of the upper Chindwin River, in towns like Kyauk Mhaw, Kyunbaw, Yinmoe and Nat Lar Pote Taung.

Normally, the high tide period doesn't last long. The lakes and rivers are filled for only about two weeks, until the tide subsides. So, before the tide lowers again, the villagers play during the evening in the lakes and rivers.

Only the worthy ones stay dry.

Unlike many city-dwellers in Myanmar, most boats people are proficient swimmers. They need to be, given that a plunge in the water is inevitable at some stage.

The boat tussles start at around 3:00pm, when the villagers gather along the river banks with their boats of varying size. Although they usually compete with boats that fit eight people, others travel with their pinegaw canoes (which are more agile, but only hold up to 4 people at a time).

Many people in the village join in the fun, both men and women. A time of abandon and fun, it's often seen as an opportunity for young men and women to court each other.

Young country girls go out on the river wearing pretty dresses and their faces adorned with thanaka, but come back soaking wet. The boys like to swim around the boats, wanting to approach the girls who perch on the bows, ready to be knocked off into the water.

As the evening sets in, more boats come into the lakes of the villages. The sound of voices, laughter and splashing carries on into the night. They row their boats by beating out a rhythm then throw water at each other when they are at arm's length. As the boats get closer, they strike out, with ores and arms, to overturn their rivals.

The push and pull of the battle can last for a few minutes, or half an hour, frustrated boats men and women sometimes jumping into the water to sabotage each other. Sometimes it takes one crafty swimmer to overturn a boat, other times a team of three coordinate to plunge the others into the water.

Some boat crews win, without ever being ditched overboard. But they must fight hard for the status of the boating king or queen.

Those whose boats are capsised swim back to the shallows and start again. The winners celebrate and rest for a short time in peace on the lake, until their rivals plot a strategic return.

When it begins to darken, the boat crews return home. During the Waso and Wakhaung months, when the rains are at their heaviest, the young villagers will look forward to this time again.

Some of the elder folks will also reminisce, of a time when they met their husbands or wives, whilst knocking them off their boats for a drenching on the Chindwin River. Translation by the Translation Team


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