Friday, October 26, 2012
My latest photo gallery, "October 2012 Lao Loum Funerals", is now available for viewing. The gallery contains 39 new photographs documenting the ritual and culture of Lao Loum funerals here in Isaan.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
|Young Lao Loum Girl Participates In Merit Making Ritual|
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
We have attended three funerals so far this month. The remainder of this month and the start of November offer little time to rest and relax. Although there will be little time for resting and relaxing, the next three weeks offer plenty of opportunities for enjoyment and fun. They will also present some unique opportunities to take some more photographs to share and experiences to write about of some unique cultural and events here in Thailand.
This week, 26-30 October is the Sakon Nakhon Wax Festival. The festival celebrates the end of Buddhist Lent. During the festival large and intricate bees wax sculptures are created. The highlight of the festival is a procession of the sculptures through the downtown area. Two years ago, Duang and I attended a similar festival for the start of Buddhist Lent in Ubon Ratchatani. We witnessed the beauty and grandeur of the Ubon Ratchathani nighttime procession.
For the Sakon Nakhon Wax Festival, we are going to observe the construction of the wax sculptures. Since we can not attend the procession, we will focus on the activities and efforts leading up to the grand parade.
Sakon Nakhon is two hours east of our home. It should be very interesting including staying in a $21.64 a night hotel.
|Villagers Make Merit In Sala that is Under Construction In Tahsang Village|
When we were in America, Duang and I each purchased a column in the Sala. When I was there on the 15th I noticed that no names were placed on the columns. I was wondering which one was mine. Duang told me that when construction was completed, names would then be placed. Since "my" column had not been identified yet, I told the Monks through Duang that I wanted the column on the left hand side of the door to be mine. Why? It is the column that I always lean against to put my shoes on. I am the only person that I have seen that wears laced up shoes. People remove their shoes before entering the sala. Since I don't wear flip-flops, putting on my shoes is a little more complicated than the other people. I lean against the column to maintain my balance to put on and lace up my shoes. Everyone had a good laugh at my request.
The Sala has been roughed in - the roof is on, the bare concrete slab has been poured, and the some of the short side walls have been erected. Workman have just started installing the decoration, Shan or Thai Yai style filigree on the edges of the roof.
During Buddhist Lent, Monks can not travel about the countryside. They are restricted to sleeping in their home Wat. October 30th is OK Panhsa day, the end of the Buddhist Lent or Retreat Season. To help gather donations to complete or continue construction of the Tahsang Village Sala, 100 Monks will be visiting and spending the night. This will make for a grand merit making opportunity for the local people. Duang and I are donating the drinking water for the Monks. I have also been asked to take some photographs of the ritual.
|Long Boat Racing In Kumphawapi|
|Royal Barges On Display at Royal Barge Museum|
We will be staying at a hotel right at the water's edge. I will be taking still photographs and Duang will be using our movie camera to document the procession of 52 barges and 2,200 costumed sailors rowing the barges.
In one of our trips to Bangkok as part of the process to obtain a via for Duang to go the USA, we had spent a couple of hours at the Royal Barge Museum where some of the barges are kept on display. During our visit one of the barges was being restored. It will be exciting to see that barge completed, manned and underway. Of course my greatest anticipation is to see the splendid barge, Suphannahong (Golden Swan) pass by. Suphannahong is the King's personal personal barge. HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will be on the Suphannahong representing the King and Royal family.
About the time that I have finished editing all the photographs and writing about the above events, it will be time for the rice harvest, holiday of Loi Krathong, Hmong New Years in Lao, Christmas, and New Years and who know what else to witness - always something to do and something to learn.
Monday, October 22, 2012
|A Lao Loum Woman Mourns Her Brother's Death|
John Donne in his poem, "Death Be Not Proud", wrote:
"Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so; ..."
Here in Northeast Thailand in the region called "Isaan" a similar attitude prevails and from my personal experiences I would add "Death Be Not Private" In the Lao Loum culture most often a person will die surrounded by family and friends. One certainty is that their funeral will be a large public event.
On Thursday I attended the third funeral ritual of this month. One of Duang's uncles, her father's oldest brother, died at the age of 77. He was a special man. Paujon Veeboonkul (Wirboonkun - Thai names can have several English spellings) had performed our "wedding" http://hale-worldphotography.blogspot.com/2009/01/19-august-2008-isaan-weddings.html and also officiated at the blessing of our home http://hale-worldphotography.blogspot.com/2009/01/14-september-2008-isaan-house-warming.html and http://hale-worldphotography.blogspot.com/2009/01/17-september-2008-spirit-houses.html
|Kuhn Paujon Conducting Our Wedding Ritual|
Kuhn Paujon was a school teacher, a very respected profession amongst the Lao Loum people. Teachers and Policemen are professions that are held in high regard by the people of Isaan. These are uniformed positions that although not commonly attained can be attained by the children of the subsistence farmers of Isaan. Duang's uncle's only son is a policeman and so are two of his grandsons - a source of pride for the family.
Kuhn Paujon besides teaching 14 year old students, was a Brahman priest. He was familiar with the various religious rituals of the Buddhist, Hindu, and Animist faiths. His knowledge and services were in constant use for weddings, births, sickness, house blessings, deaths, and all occasions where it was deemed necessary to placate the spirit world. He had been a Monk for five years before he got married. After ten years of marriage he had a son.
Duang's uncle was special in another way - he had two daughters. One daughter was the child of villagers who were not financially able to raise the baby. At birth, the parents signed papers for Kuhn Paujon and his wife to adopt the baby. His other daughter is Duang's older sister. When Duang was born, her family was too poor to raise two children. Duang's uncle and his wife took in Duang's older sister and raised her as their own child. Such is the way it is in Isaan, then and even today.
For this and many other reasons, Kuhn Paujon was highly respected and revered in the local community. He spent the past two months in the hospital ding of what I suspect was colorectal cancer. His bill for the hospital stay was 140,000 Baht ($4,666 USD). In Thailand there is no national health coverage and her uncle did not have health insurance. Family members, friends, and neighbors have contributed to help pay the bill.
While in the hospital, Kuhn Paujon was not alone. Daily his personal needs were met by attentive family members. Part of the Lao Loum tradition is to have a death watch hopefully that at the time of passing the dying person will hear words of encouragement according to my wife along the lines of " OK, you go now. Good luck to you. You not go down down you go up. Buddha take care of you You not think too much. You poor now. Maybe you come back soon better maybe come back as King. Good Luck to you". When he died, his body was transported back to his home in Nongdaeng Village to lie in state for three days. Since Duang was so close to her uncle, she stayed at the village for the entire ritual. I remained at home but attended the cremation ritual on Thursday.
So why am I writing once again about a Lao Loum funeral? I am writing once again about a funeral here in Isaan because the ritual and experience here is neither private or an event to be dreaded. This is very foreign to me and my American experience. I am fond of quoting the Buddhist attitude towards death as is best expressed by Wade Davis, a renowned Canadian Anthropologist and contributor to National Geographic documentaries. In his documentary series "Light At the End of the World" he states "The Buddhists spend all their lives getting ready for a moment that we spend most of our lives pretending does not exist, which is the moment of our death"
In Isaan death is a milestone of life which is familiar to and accepted by all from a very early age. The conclusion of this life, which for many has been very difficult, presents the hope as well as opportunity for a better and easier life in the future - another step towards enlightenment.
I share these funeral ritual experiences to provide a perspective on the matter that is most likely not available to many of this blog's readers. It is not a morbid curiosity or obsession that motivates me. The blogs on the Lao Loum funeral ritual are documentation on the inevitability of death for all of us, how common and often that it occurs, and how other cultures deal with the event.
On the morning of the cremation, people arrived at the family home in Nongdaeng Village. One of the first things that they do after giving wais (prayer type gestures of respect and greeting) to the tables of guests who are seated, drinking and eating is to go to a table next to the public address system. Seated at the table next to a man that is performing a running commentary over the top of recorded ethnic music is a man with a ledger and pen. Cash donations are given to the man who dutifully records the name of the contributor as well as the amount of cash donated. The commentator uses the ledger to announce the arrival of the mourner as well as their cash donation. The cash will be donated to the local Monks in the name of the deceased, the selected person who presents the donation, as well as the donor. Some people who do not have cash to donate will contribute sacks of sticky rice, the stable food for the Lao Loum people. These contributions are also recorded in the ledger and dutifully announced to the public. The rice donations are made and kept in front and to the side of the coffin inside of the home. Periodically the smaller sacks are consolidated into a large 55 kg bag. The rice is given to the local Wat in the name of the deceased and donor for the Monks to distribute as needed to very poor people. Costs for the food, drink, and other funeral expenses are paid from family savings, bank loans, family donations, friend donations, neighbor donations and insurance payments.
|A Villager Places A Donation of Sticky Rice In Front of the Coffin|
|Mourners Inside of Kuhn Paujon's Home|
|The Abbott, Paujon's Brother, Recites Buddhist Scripture from a Buddhist Scripture Book|
|Duang's Aunt Pours Water As Part of Merit Making Ritual for her Husband|
|Led by Monks Holding Disaisin, Procession Departs the Home For the Wat|
|Puffed Rice Is Offered to the Spirits As the Procession Circles the Crematorium|
|Disaisin Connects Coffin to Nearby Sala for Part of Funeral|
|Paujon's Nephew Escorts His Uncle's Coffin Around the Crematorium|
Some people are selected to present offerings such as Monk's robes. These too are placed atop the closed coffin
|Seated In the Sala, Monks Pass Daisaisin That Links Them to the Coffin|
|Following Her Sister, Duang Makes An Offering to Her Uncle|
After the ritual of offering and accepting, all people picked up a totem called a "daugjen" from a table at the foot of the crematorium stairs. Daugjens are small handicraft items that are constructed of bamboo and/or paper that symbolize good luck tokens for the spirit about to be released by the flames on its journey.
|A Young Girl Prepares To Place A Daugjen On the Coffin|
|After Knocking Three Times, Some Final Words|
|Daungchan Places A Daugjen On Her Uncle's Coffin|
|Headman of Tambon Siaw Places A Monk's Robe On the Coffin|
|Monks Accepting Robe Offerings|
|A Novice Monk Prepares To Pour Coconut Water On the Corpse of His Grandfather|
At the same time that the funeral fire is starting and the fireworks are exploding, in an act of renouncing this world and its worldly possessions, family members throw wrapped hard candy and colorfully wrapped coins to the awaiting crowd consisting mainly of children.
|Children Scramble to Gather Candy and Coins Tossed As a Demonstration for the Renunciation of Worldly Goods and Possessions|
This was yet another funeral that I have witnessed. But during this funeral I found myself internally celebrating and taking comfort in the ritual. The familiarity of a ritual that has been practiced over 2,000 years seemed to provide a link to the past all the while of serving as a map to a future destination. Death seems to be more familiar and less frightening; something that I have just begun to experience but is taught from an early age in Isaan. Like so many situations in life, fear and the lack of knowledge impart greater power than is justified by facts.
"Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so; ..."
As I have at every funeral here in Isaan, I walked away impressed with the dignity, respect, and compassion that the community had demonstrated for one of their own.
|Young Boy Watches the Smoke Ascending From Crematorium|
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
|Hands Pressed Together, A Young Child Participates In the Funeral Ritual|
|Duang Makes Prayer Offering For Her Former Mother-in-Law|
Every funeral that I have attended here in Isaan has been similar but different enough to make each ritual unique. For this funeral, there was no procession from the home to the local Wat. When we arrived before the scheduled start of the ritual at 11:30 A.M., the coffin had been placed in front of the Wat crematorium. There were some people milling about the home of the deceased person but the outdoor kitchen, hustle and bustle of preparing food, tables filled with food and drink were absent. There was no gambling anywhere to be seen for this funeral.
Food and non-alcoholic beverages were served to attendees in the Wat's sala (meeting hall) next to the crematorium. Like all the other funerals that I have attended here in northeast Thailand, the "Old Mamas" were organized into several small clusters; busy gossiping and chewing betelnut. Funerals here are large social events with family and friends travelling great distances to attend. There is a great deal of noise from people greeting each other and getting caught up on the latest news as well as gossip.
|"Old Mamas" Socializing and Chewing Betelnut in the Wat's Sala|
|A Young Child Bows During The Merit Making Ritual|
|Hands Pack the Ingredients for Betelnut Chewing Into A Tube to Create a Plug|
|Experienced Hands Prepare the Chewing Plug|
|Helping Hands Are Always Welcomed|
|The Compacted Chewing Plug Is Forced Out of the Tube|
|At Last - Time to Enjoy the Fruits of Labor|
As is integral to the merit making ritual, the offering of gifts; cash, robes, and electric fans on behalf of the donors and the deceased was a prominent display. Apparently because she was once married to one of the woman's sons, Duang's name was announced for her to walk up and take one of the envelopes containing some of the donated cash. As part of the merit making ritual at Lao Loum funerals relatives, close friends, dignitaries, and esteemed guests are called up to take an offering of money which they place in front of the Monks who are always seated above the other participants of the ritual. For this funeral there was also a different treatment of the offerings made to the Monks. A white cotton string that is always used in the ritual to connect the Monks and the coffin, was placed over the offertory envelopes with the Monks placing their index finger on the envelope as they chanted.
|Monks Accepting Offerings of Cash As part of Merit Making Ritual|
|The cotton string that connects the deceased person to the Sanga passes through the hand of a grandson who has become a Monk for the funeral ritual|
|Grandsons Participating In Their Grandmother's Funeral|
|Duang Pours Green Coconut Water Over the Corpse|
|Experienced hands, just like faces reflect the trials, struggles, and triumphs of a long life|
|An assistant hands a container of fuel to the deceased's brother to prepare the cremation fire|
Friday, October 5, 2012
|An "Old Mama" Prepares to Chew Some Betel Nut In Isaan|
Betel nut chewing is popular in Southeast Asia and Pacific. The practise has been going on for thousands of years. In Thailand there is evidence of it going back four thousand years. It is very complicated in that it is not what it would seem to be. Most of the confusion stems from improper translation from native languages to western languages during the colonial era.
First of all the practise referred to in English as "betelnut chewing" or "betel nut chewing" does not even involve a nut. There is no such thing as a "betelnut" The "nut" used in the practise is actually a drupe of the Areca palm (Areca catechu). A drupe is a fruit, often referred to as "stone fruit" that has a fleshy outside with a pit containing a seed. Mango, plum, nectarines, peach, and cherry are examples of drupes.
|An Elderly Lao Loum Grandmother Enjoying A Chew|
|A Lao Women In the Luang Namtha Area of LPDR Chewing Betel Nut|
|An "Old Mama" Holding Some Betel Vine Leaves|
|Elderly Lao Loum Women In Isaan Chewing Betel Nut|
|Betel Nut Chewers At a Lao Loum Funeral in Isaan|
|A Betelnut Chewer Flashing the Ubiquitous Red Smile|
|Passing An Afternoon and Entertaining Visitors In Isaan|
|What Goes In, Eventually Comes Out - Elderly Woman Spits out Betlejuice|
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