Bon Om Touk (Cambodian Water Festival)

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Bon Om Touk (The Cambodian Water Festival) is an extremely important cultural event in Cambodia that marks the natural spectacle of the reversing flow of the Tonle Sap River. The natural phenomenon occurs during the monsoon season when the water levels of the lower Mekong become so high that it reverses the flow of the Tonle Sap River, forcing the water back up on itself. This event also marks the start of the fishing season and provides a vital source of income for many rural Cambodians. Bon Om Touk begins on the full moon in November and parties, celebrations and cultural displays take place during the next three days of the festival. But the main attraction is the boat races which is a tradition that dates back to the ninth century and the reign of King Jayavarman II. The event has a great carnival atmosphere with markets and food stalls lining the banks and each evening closes with a fireworks display over the river.

People come from all over to join the celebrations. School is closed, and most workers go on vacation. More then a million Cambodians gather at the river banks to celebrate; those who can't find hotel rooms often just camp out along the streets.

Bon Om Touk dates back to the 12th century, to the time of the Angkorian King Jayavarman VII. The Water Festival was celebrated by the King's Navy to kick off the Cambodian fishing season - the fluvial festivities are meant to keep the river divinities happy, ensuring a bountiful harvest of rice and fish for the year to come.

A competing story holds that Bon Om Touk was a way for the King to prepare his navy for battle. At Bayon near Siem Reap, naval battles have been carved into the stonework, depicting boats not that much different from the boats that race on Tonle Sap today.

Three ceremonies underpin the entire Bon Om Touk celebration:
Loy Pratip: an evening fluvial parade, featuring beautifully-illuminated boats lighting up the waterways. Government institutions sponsor each of the boats on parade.
Sampeas Preah Khe: the salutation to the moon. The full moon is supposed to be a good sign for the coming harvest, which is why Cambodians make sure to give thanks to it on Bon Om Touk, and pray for a bountiful harvest ahead.

Auk Ambok: at midnight, celebrants gather at temples to eat ambok (flattened rice), a holiday rice dish. Ambok is simply rice fried in the husk, pounded to remove the husk, and mixed with banana and coconut.
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Similarities and Differences

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Hawaiian Canoe Regatta
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Earliest forms of Racing Canoes
The first canoes used were generally converted fishing canoes. Canoes were of all manner of length and therefore weight, but of similar design. With such variance in canoes, the choice of canoe for racing was critical as canoes of this era were not built so much for speed, but more for practicality, being often heavy, ruggedly built, beamy and short by today standards with little attempt at streamlining.

Current Status of Canoe Racing In the Hawaiian Islands

There are now well over 60 clubs and 10,000 active outrigger canoeists throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The sport is recognized as the Islands national sport, however their is some disappointment at the lack of support that it is given through government fundings. The sport is an intrinsic part of Hawaiian culture though of course many of European origin, participate in a sport which for many is a lifestyle and a lifetime dedication.

Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association (OHCRA) Mission Statement:
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To maintain and perpetuate Hawaiian culture through the promotion of Hawaiian water sports;
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To teach, train, instruct and expose children, men and women in the ancient art, craft and history of Hawaiian canoeing;
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To provide means and facilities for activities tending to foster the development and maintenance of strong and healthy minds, bodies and spirits among all people;
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To provide opportunities for the interaction and communion of people in the interest of mental and social well-being;
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To promote international canoe racing competition.
In the pursuit of these purposes, OHCRA is organized to promote competitive inter-club, inter-island, and international Hawaiian canoe racing, and in so doing to teach, educate and preserve the art and culture of Hawaiian canoeing.

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