Baci Ceremony, Vientiane
We were invited to take part in our own Baci Ceremony while we were in Vientiane. Prior to our own ceremony I knew nothing about what happened or why they had the ceremonies.
In Laos a Baci ceremony is carried out for both sad and happy events so it might be for a marriage, a birth of a child, a funeral/death, a welcome home, before or after major exams and before a long journey could all be reasons for a Baci ceremony.
There is no specific day or time for a Baci ceremony but just before noon or sunset appears to be a preferred time. The idea of the ceremony is a calling of the soul or in Laos "su kwan" also spelt ‘sou khuan’ .
The idea of kwan is the soul of a person but more than that; vital life force of any being. In Laos it was believed in ancient times that humans consisted of thirty two parts and these were watched over by kwan. The human works best when all his kwan are in the body and the idea of the Baci ceremony is to call all the kwan back to the body from wherever they have wandered off to.
The Pha kwan or Pha Khuan
When we arrived in the middle of the floor was a wonderful creation called the pha kwan. This is made from banana leaves , marigolds and white threads. It is wider at the bottom like a pyramid and must take hours to create. This creation is usually made by older woman in the village or community.
This flower creation is set on a white cloth in the middle of the room. The person who is to carry out the ceremony sits cross legged in front of the pha kwan and he is called a maw pawn or mohkwan or mor phon. The maw pawn is usually an elderly man, often an ex monk and he chants the sort of poetry during the ceremony. The maw pawn also knows the auspicious days when it is best to hold a Baci ceremony and that is worked out by using the lunar phases.
Around the pha kwan were a couple of sweets and dried and fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs which represent the foetus , a stalk of bananas which represented the community and each fruit being member s of that community, a whole boiled chicken with head feet and claws and finally as a bottle of Laolao whisky for purification.
We had to sit on the carpet around the pha kwan and the white strings that were attached to the pha kwan were taken and handed to each of us to hold. The maw pawn also held one white string too. And began his Buddhist or animist chanting which is him calling the wandering spirits back to the body.
The ceremony began by the maw pawn lighting a candle on the top of the Pha Kwan and then those taking part in the ceremony my husband and I laid our hands palm down at the edge of the pha kwan. The maw pawn then brushed our hands with the white strings saying "hai kuard nee, dee kuard kao" meaning "bad is swept out, good is swept in".
The next stage was he took the white strings and gave us each one to hold and he also held one end and he chanted some more and this was asking our spirits to receive the blessings.We then held the string between our palms while he continued to chant.
We were then told to say "ma der khuan euy" whixh according to our guide means "please come spirits". He then threw some bits of rice in the air over us . These rice grains we were told represented the spirits and the good luck that we had asked for in the ceremony.
After the chanting the maw pawn then tied the strings around our wrists. If this had been a big ceremony such as a pre wedding ceremony then everybody would have then come forward to tie a string around the wrists of the couple taking part. I think about three or four strings were tied around each of our wrists. As these strings were tied around our wrists he chanted some more words which were a sort of concluding blessing.
The final part of the ceremony was that the maw pawn poured a little shot of Laolao into small glasses and we each had one. This concluded the ceremony and we were instructed to keep the white strings on our wrists for at least three days and longer if we wanted our lost spirits to have the best chance of returning to us.
We got up to leave and we told that we were to take the beautiful pha kwan home with us. We sadly only had one more night in Vientiane so we took it back and had it in our hotel room for one night and then left it for the cleaner the next day so hopefully it might return her spirits too.
I kept my strings on for the rest of our holiday so hopefully all my spirits have returned to me. My husband took his off when we left Laos which was at least three days so I think he has been balanced too.
I found the ceremony really interesting. I am not sure i fully understand the whole thing. I am certain I understood not a word of the chanting but it was done with ceremony and was very serious too . The maw pawn didn’t speak to us at all except when doing his chanting and after the ceremony he disappeared very quickly. Out guide was greta and explained a lot of what went on to us so that we understood the ceremony and what happened a bit better than just sitting through it.
My husband can’t bend his knees and sit on the floor so he really struggled as you are meant to kneel and sit on your heels or sit cross legged and he can do neither so sort of had his legs bent to the side. This is something to consider if you have problems like this. You have to sit for about twenty minutes so my legs were just beginning to get pins and needles when we finished.
I thought it was lovely that we got to keep the pha Kwan and such a shame we only got to enoy it for one night. I hope the hotel cleaning staff got some pleasure out of it as so much work had gone into making it.
I am sure we paid for this in our tour but I am not sure what it cost. Selective Asia put together our itinerary for us and worked out all the flights etc while we just told them what we wanted to do.