Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bun Kaithin

Tahsang Villager Dances Down Street Displaying Her Money Tree
The month of November is a period for Bun Kaithin here in Isaan.  "Bun" is a Lao word  that roughly means festival so Bun Kaithin here is the festival for Kaithin.  The Royal Barge Procession was conducted on November 9th so that HRH The Crown Prince could perform the Royal Kaithin Ceremony at Wat Arun.  The Royal Kaithin ceremony involved demonstrating  appreciation for the Monks by offering them robes called "Kaithin".

Throughout November and all over Thailand as well as the Lao People's Democratic Republic local people demonstrate their appreciation for their Monks in village celebrations.  For Tahsang Village, November 24th and 25th were the days chosen for their celebration.

Duang's Mother Working On Family Money Tree
Saturday, November 24th, the first day of the celebration started with each of the households making a money tree.  Often when cash is raised for offering to the Monks, a money tree is created out of a banana stalk.  Bamboo skewers are split and a small elastic band used at one end in order to hold a baht note.  The assembly is then jabbed into the banana stalk to create baht "leaves".  The banana money tree is  then paraded through the village with stops at each home seeking donations to add more leaves to the tree.

For this celebration there were some different types of money trees.  One of the village men had set up across the street from Duang's house in the village and was making money trees out of rice straw from the recent harvest.  Bundles of straw were lashed together with plastic ribbon to create three legged trees that had either two or three limbs.  Some of the straw money trees did not have roots to support the tree.  Those trees were placed in an empty plastic beverage bottle filled with sand.  Some families did not create a money tree.  They filled a container either plastic, earthenware, or glass with sand to support the bamboo skewers of baht notes.

There are some cultural mores associated with the offerings.  The first is that the offering needs to be as auspicious as possible. Rather than having a single 1000 Baht ($33.33 USD) note on a money tree, the Lao Loum people prefer to have 10 branches of 100 Baht notes or perhaps even better yet - 5 branches of 100 Baht notes, four branches of 50 Baht notes, and 15 branches of 20 Baht notes.  Just as a big public display is made at weddings to count and recount the Sin Sod (dowry), it is important to make a public display of the family's offering to the Monks - the larger the tree and the more branches the better the offering.  Some people will donate money to other's trees in order to participate in a grander display than they could make on their own.

On our way out to the village we had to stop at the bank in Kumphawapi to change money for dressing out of not just our money tree, Duang's mother's tree, and Duang's son's money tree, but money trees for several other family members.  Besides changing the 1000 Baht notes into smaller denominations, obtaining new uncirculated or at least crisper bank notes is desired.

The morning was spent in the homes, dressing out the money trees.  Everyone participated in the task.  Children, parents, grandparents, and great grandparents all helped.  At Duang's house, some visitors were also enlisted to help out.

Peelawat Dresses Out the Money Tree
Around mid-day some men showed up.  They were lay people from the Wat who handled the Wat's finances.  Monks are not supposed to handle money, so selected lay people handle banking and other financial tasks for each Wat.  In the case of the "Outside" Wat the biggest financial dealing involves building the new Bot (Worship Hall).  The laymen carried and maintained a ledger of all donations. Just as is done at a funeral wedding, the name of the donor and donation was recorded in the ledger.  The ledger will be presented to the Monks who will read it and incorporate the names of the donors in their merit making rituals.

The Family's Contribution is Recorded
After the laymen had concluded their visits, the villagers along with their money trees started congregating at the village meeting pavilion across the street from Duang's house.  The meeting pavilion is about 30 feet by 30 feet open sided and covered with a corrugated metal roof.  It is used for voting and village meetings.  When not used for public events it is used as a play area by the young children of the village or as a stall by travelling vendors.  On Saturday, the pavilion was all decorated with colorful pennants.  Several large stalks of bananas were hanging down from the roof on one side.  Across the street from the pavilion, a large truck was parked.  The truck was loaded with large speakers blaring out ethnic music.  It was quite a festive atmosphere.

The pavilion was a staging point for the afternoon parade through the village.  At 1:00 PM the parade started.  Men, women, teenagers, children, toddlers, and one falang (foreigner) set off followed by the sound truck.  Tahsang Village is a small village and the parade route was roughly 6 to 8 city blocks long - a loop through the village.  Three hours later, the procession was over.  Three hours?  Yes!  The procession stopped at just about every home along the route.  People had started drinking when they were putting their money trees together earlier in the morning.  Now that the procession had started, the drinking had become more prevalent.  Stopping at every house?  At each stop, people joined the procession; some after cajoling.  At some of the stops. people add money to some of the trees.  At many of the stops, people gave glasses of beer or whiskey to  the participants.  At every stop, besides dancing, there was conversation and joking with the residents - things that all ate up time quickly.

Parading Through Tahsang Village
One of the pleasures that I have is to witness and document the passage of time in Tahsang Village on an individual basis.  Babies are now young children.  Sons and nephews have become Monks and some have moved on to be husbands and/or fathers.  There always seems to be a new baby in the village to become acquainted with.  For every funeral, there is a spouse who carries on with their life.  Unlike many in Western countries, here in Isaan, they do not carry on alone.  Family. friends, and neighbors support the widows of the village.  One of my favorite subjects is Duang's Aunt who is a fairly recent widow.  She always transports herself with a strong sense of dignity and with a quiet resolution of suffering.  She makes it to all family events and village celebrations.  Saturday was no exception.

A Familiar Face - One of Duang's Aunts
During the celebration, along the entire procession route, a group of young boys danced with tremendous enthusiasm directly in front of the sound truck.  One of the principle dancers was Tey.  There was a time, not all that long ago, when we all thought that Tey would never walk.  Well past the age when children walk and run, Tey was still moving along by using his hands and arms to lift his bottom off the ground and use his stomach muscles to thrust is abdomen forward as his arms lowered his bottom once again to the ground.   Well Tey is six years old now and you would never know about his early difficulty walking.  Lessons learned:  Although you may have many answers, you rarely have all the answers.  Some problems are not problems.  Somethings take longer for some people.  Tey is now a dancing machine.

Tey and Other Village Boys Dancing Up a Storm

Village Boys Dancing Ahead of Sound Truck
The young boys were dancing like the older boys dance in front of the stage at Mahlam Lao shows.  The dance is what I call the Carabao (Water Buffalo).  It involves alternative stomping of the ground with one foot while hopping on one leg.  The body is bent at the waist while motions are made with the hands and arms.  It appears that a new wave of dancers is ready to take over the mosh pits to come.

The Joy of Being Young ... In Isaan

Youthful Enthusiam Can Be Contagious ... At Any Age

The end of the day, the end of the procession.

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