Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sarawak Regatta - What a regatta

The annual Sarawak Regatta held in Kuching earlier this month was no ordinary boat race. Emotions ran high as thousands gathered and shouted themselves hoarse cheering their favourite teams on.

IN any race or sporting event, there are always gracious winners, sore losers, celebrations, accusations, protestations and shrugs of the shoulder.

During this year’s Sarawak Regatta earlier this month, the atmosphere in the mighty Sarawak River was thick with competitive spirit as emotions ran high and participants battled it out tooth and nail. Tempers flared and paddles flew. There were cheers, there were tears.

The event can be traced back all the way to the reign of the White Rajahs of Sarawak. The second Rajah of Sarawak, Sir Charles Brooke, initiated the Sarawak Regatta in 1872 to avoid civil wars as well as to nurture healthy integration and sportsmanship amongst people who were hostile to each other.

The Rajahs’ rule may have ended but the regatta lives on.

This year’s race, themed The Race for Peace, was organised by the Kuching Resident’s Office in collaboration with government agencies and the private sector. From just a handful of teams when it was first held more than a century ago, the regatta has grown — a total of 313 teams comprising 5,844 paddlers competed in 17 events in this year’s edition, which offered a total prize money of RM178,600.

Known as “the mother of all regattas”, the Sarawak Regatta is customarily dominated by the Bidar and Balok boats.

The Bidar boat, made from hardwood, is traditionally associated with the Iban. It can accommodate up to 30 paddlers. The Balok boat (also called the sampan) is smaller and was originally designed by the Malays. These boats were formerly used for fishing, gathering attap leaves for roof construction and to transport goods and people.

During the opening ceremony, the river was alive with colour. All kinds of boats were paraded, sundry uniformed units showcased their skills, and every team that made it to the finals glided past the VIPs in a parade of honour. The sun was scorching but supporters and spectators gathered all the same along the banks, armed with hats and umbrellas, to cheer the teams on.

The regatta, touted as one of the main events in Sarawak’s tourism calendar, drew more than 60,000 people, with some arriving before sunrise to secure a good viewing spot.

C.S. Ong, a Sarawakian who lives in Singapore, makes it a point to return to his hometown every year for the event.

“This year, some of my siblings who live overseas also decided to return at the same time, so it’s a sort of family gathering for us,” said the 56-year old lawyer.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Sarawak Regatta - What a regatta

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