Chasing the dragon boat

The Chinese in Trinidad celebrate their arrival over 200 years ago with an annual Dragon Boat Festival

  • The dragons racing in the first dragon boat festival in Trinidad, October 2006. Photograph courtesy The Trinidad And Tobago Dragon Boat Association

Thousands of people turned out to witness the inaugural dragon boat race held in honour of the 200th anniversary of Chinese arrival in Trinidad and Tobago, marked on October 10 last year.

This year the Chinese Bi-centennial Ltd and the Trinidad and Tobago Dragon Boat Federation (TTDBF) promise the dragon boat festival, now an annual one, will be even bigger, and better. The expanded festival dominates the first half of October and includes art exhibitions, a concert on the Brian Lara Promenade in Port of Spain, a “Taste of China” food fair and a full day of dragon boat racing.

The Chinese were brought to Trinidad from 1806 to work as contract labour in the canefields under British colonial rule. They continue to add to the country’s development in all areas, and their countrymen have welcomed the new sport of dragon boat racing with open arms.

A dragon boat is a long, narrow boat used in the team paddling sport, which originated in China. Racing events are traditionally held to commemorate the death of Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet. According to legend the poet lived in the pre-imperial Warring States period (475-221 BC) and wrote some of the greatest early poetry in Chinese literature.

Boats are sometimes rigged with decorative Chinese-style dragon heads and tails, and carry a large drum aboard. The dragon is the most honoured water deity in Chinese mythology.

The standard crew of a contemporary dragon boat is around 22, with 20 paddlers in pairs facing the bow of the boat, one drummer or caller (like a cox in a western-style rowing race) at the bow, facing the paddlers, and a helmsman at the rear. The boats vary in length and crew size, from small dragon boats with 10 paddlers up to the massive traditional boats, which have upwards of 50.

Businessman Franco Siu Chong, president of the federation, is excited at the pace of the sport’s development in Trinidad. So far this year races have been held to raise funds for charity, as teambuilding exercises for companies, and as part of the Point Fortin Borough Day celebrations.

The federation now has 12 boats in use, up from six last year. The boats are made from fibreglass and were imported from Amsterdam, but Siu Chong says boats are now being imported from China.

Last year, 800 competitors found their rhythm after taking off from the Kayak Centre at Williams Bay in Chaguaramas. Teams came from various companies around Trinidad and Tobago and from six Chinese groups: the Chinese Association of Trinidad and Tobago, the Toy Shan Association, the China Civic Society, the Chung Shan Association, the Sun Wai Association, and the Fui Toong On Association.

But you don’t have to be Chinese to take part. Groups of 22 can register with the federation to test their rhythm on race day.


For more information contact: Chinese Association, 7 St Ann’s Road, St Ann’s, Trinidad
Tel: (+868) 624-7150 Fax: (+868) 623-1321 E-mail:
Or check the Discover Trinidad and Tobago Calendar online at


Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
The views expressed on this website are those of the the authors and do not reflect those of the Direct Support Grants Programme.