Baci Ceremony history
Friday, July 30, 2010
I know this is a lot to read, but before I write my blog tomorrow, I wanted my readers to get an understanding of what we experienced. The pictures will help as well
It is said that traditionally the Lao believed that the body contained 23 spirits (khuan) which resided in different areas of it. These spirits can sometimes leave the body and wander. If they wander too far they can be lost and the person can experience problems. So the baci ceremony is performed to call teh spirits back to the body to bring life back into harmony, not only for the individual but also for the group involved in the ceremony, and it is argued by anthropologists, the village as well. This is why they are held at important events and especially why they are held for people who are travelling - like phakphon's ceremony.
Lao traditional ceremonies involves the ritualistic tying of holy cotton threads to ensure blessings of the spirits on specific persons, activities or places. It is believed to restore the natural order of things and bring communities closer together.
The ceremony originated in the Hindu tradition and began to mix with Buddhist traditions in Laos 500 years ago. It is performed by a 'mor phon' who is usually an elder who has spent some time as a Buddhist monk. The mor phon and invited guests sit around a baci centrepiece which is an elaborately decorated flower arrangement. A long chain of cotton threads is placed in the hands of guests connecting them to each other and to the centrepiece. The mor phon then lights candles on the centrepiece and begins to chant Buddhist scriptures in the ancient Pali language
The guests clasp their hands together in respect and those familiar with Pali prayers participate in various points of the chanting. On conclusion of chanting (which usually lasts around twenty minutes), holy scented water is sprinkled over the guests and uncooked rice grains are thrown in the air. At this point, special guests such as foreigners may be presented with an offering bowl containing cooked chicken and other simple foods. The special guests must hold aloft the offering bowl in their palms and drink from cups of Lao rice wine. It is believed that this will ensure that they have sufficient to eat and drink in the future.
Following this, the mor phon and other guests tie cotton threads on guests' and each others' wrists. These cotton threads as well as the centrepiece have been prepared by the women of the group in advance of the ceremony. The threads used in the baci ceremony are usually white as Lao people believe that white represents innocence, friendship and kindness. However, recently, other colours such as red, yellow and black have been introduced to the ceremony. Red threads are believed to represent bravery; yellow can symbolize faith; and black can mean sympathy for a person's sadness or loss. Before tying on the threads, a knot is tied in the strings. This, it is believed, firmly ties the guests' souls to their bodies.
While tying on the threads, good wishes are offered to the recipient, usually along the lines of, "Bad things go out," "Good things come in," or "I wish you good health, long life and happiness". The form of these good wishes is very flexible and may be offered in any language. The recipient then raises their right hand to chest level (nop) to show respect for the person who ties the string. During this process, the mor phon and special guests will be encouraged to drink more ceremonial glasses of Lao rice wine or similar alcoholic drink.