Sunday, April 14, 2013

Poi Sang Long Festival - Wednesday 03 April 2013

A Young Shan Boy Being Transformed Into A Sang Long

Wednesday 03 April was the official start of the 2013 Poi Sang Long Festival in Maehongson.  we had arrived the day before not only to witness the shaving of the young boys heads in the late afternoon. Another reason that we had arrived in Maehongson the day before the official start of the festival was to be able to get a good night's sleep albeit a short night for the early morning activities of the next morning.

From our previous attendance of Poi Sang Long in 2009 and in talking with some of the families during the head shaving ceremony that the boys along with their families would return to the Wat at 5:00 A.M. to prepare for the morning procession through the town.  Preparing for the first day of the festival procession involves applying make-up to the boys face, dressing them in splendid silk garments, gold jewelry, and fancy floral crowns. At the conclusion of the process, ordinary Shan boys have been transformed into "jeweled princes" (Sang Long) reminiscent of Buddha's son, the first Monk, Prince Rahula.

Young Shan (Thai Yai) boys becoming ordained as Novice Monk is a life milestone for them as well as for their family.  Just as with a wedding, this celebration is a grand opportunity and to a certain extent, an obligation for the family to exhibit their success or at least their perceived prosperity. Boys are typically ordained when they are between 9 and 14 years old.  The rite is often deferred until the family has saved or borrowed sufficient money to do it "properly"  The ornate silk clothing that the boys wear is expensive and often fabric is imported from nearby Southeast Asian countries to ensure an expected level of opulence.

Besides the expenses associated with transforming a son into a "jeweled prince", there are costs for the food and drinks for guests to the family home.  There are also the costs of offerings that are made to the Monks.  Family members wearing their finest new traditional Shan clothing also participate in the processions of the festival.  It all makes for a splendid and unique display of Shan culture.

Having been informed that the boys would commence to have their make-up applied and donning their costumes at 5:00 A.M., I decided that we would get to the Wat at 4:00 A.M. to ensure that we would not miss out on anything.  We woke up at 3:30 A.M. to prepare and get to the Wat at my desired time.  Duang is very supportive of my obsessions and never complains about some of our early morning departures in pursuit of photographs. Wednesday was no exception.  Overcoming some difficulties of finding Wat Hua Wiang in the early morning darkness, we arrived at the Sala at 4:15 A.M. By 4:30 the Sala was filled with the 26 boys, their families, television crews, photographers, and about 10 foreign tourists.

Lipstick Is Adjusted Using Finger Tips
One of my main objectives of this trip was to photograph and hopefully capture some of the magic involved in transforming typical young boys into special Sang Long (jeweled princes).  Four years ago I had photographed the process but this year I had a more capable camera that allows me to shoot at a higher ISOs with less noise.  I also had equipment this year to take my flash off the camera and to reduce the harshness of the light created by the speed-lite   Perhaps more importantly I have developed some new techniques to further define my style in these situations.  In the four years since our last visit, Duang also has a new digital camera and has worked on her techniques too.

Unlike four years ago, men were more involved in the application of make-up.  Although many mothers, sisters, and aunts applied the make-up, several fathers and I assumed brothers more than held their own in their proficiency.  Once the lipstick, eyeliner, eye shadow, glitter, and foundation were applied, the family assisted the boys to put on their special clothing.  Once again men were deeply involved in this process.

An Older Brother Dresses His Younger Brother

Father Dressing His Son
Aside from the make-up and elaborate clothing, the transformation into a Sang Long involves adorning the young boys with gold, jewelry  and imitations of those precious items.  After all, every Prince needs to have their bling-bling. Mothers, sisters, and aunts loan their valuables to the boy for him to wear during the festival.

A Father Prepares to Place A Necklace Around His Son's Neck

Family Jewelry Placed on Sang Long

The preparation of the Sang Long is completed with the placing of a very intricate and colorful floral crown.

Dressed and Ready
After all the boys had been prepared, they lined up in two rows once again facing the senior Monk and a large statue of Buddha.  A ritual of chanting both by the Senior Monk and the boys was performed.

Sang Long Participating In Early Morning Ritual

Chanting Along With the Other Jeweled Princes
At the conclusion of the ritual in the Sala, the boys were then hoisted upon the shoulders of their father, older brothers, uncles, or in some cases hired men to be carried outside to wait for the start of the morning procession.  For the remainder of the festival the boys would no longer walk or stand.  They would be carried about.

Outside of the Sala, bands of cymbals and drums beat out a repetitious staccato beat.  Some of the men carrying boys broke out into spontaneous dance.  Women dressed in colorful fine clothing milled about waiting for the start of the morning's procession through the downtown area.

Let the Procession Proceed!
As the procession set off, Duang and I returned to our truck for there were other objectives to try to accomplish on this trip.  The day was still very young and we had places to go and hopeful many people to meet along the way.

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