Saturday, February 14, 2015

Preparations for Tamboon Nung Roy Wan - Basaht Building

On Day #1 Men Building A Basaht

On Thursday, we drove out to Tahsang Village for me to photograph mushroom workers.  Upon arrival at the village, we found out that the people would not be harvesting mushrooms that day - an apparent change from just the night before.  No matter the case - there was something interesting, as usual, going on.  Workmen were busy constructing a fence, more like a wall, in front of my mother-in-law's house.  I occupied myself observing their tasks and photographing them.  It really  was interesting than one would expect - remember this is Thailand. There will be another blog soon about fence building in Isaan.

Around 10:00 A.M., the sound of ethnic Lao music blasted through the air.  Looking down a side street next to Yai Puu's house, I could see some scaffolding associated with Mor Lam shows or huge speakers for taped music.  Something was definitely going on.

I grabbed my camera and walked down the side street to see what was going on.  As soon as I arrived at the intersection of the side street, a man approached me.  He was serious and determined - he wanted me to take pictures of him and his buddies making two spirit houses underneath a canopy across from his home.

I immediately recognized what was going on - preparations were underway for a Tamboon Nung Roy Wan party.

As part of the ethnic Lao Theravada Buddhist culture, during the Tamboon Nung Roy Wan (100 days after cremation) ritual also known as "Bone Party", offerings are made to the spirits - both to the recently deceased as well as others.

In addition to making offerings to the spirits, offerings are also made to the local Monks.  The making of offerings is a merit making ritual by the family, friends, and neighbors of the deceased person.  Merit is earned in many ways and is a determining factor in a person's reincarnation.  People earn merit for themselves as well as for their ancestors.

Basahts are also used to make offerings to the Monks on special religious days, such as the end of Vassa, also known as the End of Buddhist Lent and End of the Buddhist Rain Retreat - Ok Phansa

For death rituals and 100 Day Anniversary, the offerings to the spirits are made in small spirit houses called "Basahts".  The spirit houses are hand made out of local materials such as bamboo, banana leaves, banana stalks, colored paper, Styrofoam, wax, and foam board. Often plastic chairs or a piece of furniture, either metal or wood, serves as the base for the basaht.

Day #2 - Men Finishing Off One of Two Bassahts
The spirit houses are constructed by men - including the elaborate cutting of colored paper to create lantern type decorations.  I have noticed that there is a distinct division of labor in the preparation for funerals and Tamboon Nung Roy Wan (100 Day Anniversary Party).

Men typically construct the basahts.  Younger men are responsible for cutting and preparing the pigs and cattle that have been purchased from vendors to feed the helpers and participants of what is usually a three day event.  The older women occupy themselves making the ornate centerpieces, Bai Sii Kwan, used in the merit making rituals of the Bone Party.  Middle-aged women typically handle the food preparation and cooking chores with young girls typically serving the food, cleaning the tables, and washing the pots, platters, trays, cutlery, and glasses. Everyone seems to know their job without being told.  The preparation crew is usually around 40 to 50 people.

Inside the spirit houses, household goods such as plates and cups, clothing items, food stuff, and money are placed - all items necessary for the ghosts to have on their journey to the other world.  Other offerings, offerings made to the local Monks, such as money, clocks, fans, pots, pans, brooms, buckets of toiletries, towels, etc. accompany the procession of the spirit house from the home of the deceased person to the local Wat.

"Tamboon Roi Wan" is the funeral anniversary party that has been written about many times in "Allen's World".  Tamboon Roi Wan is a merit making ritual that is held 100 days after the cremation of the body.  If for some reason, typically financial, that the ritual can not be held 100 days after the cremation, the ritual can be held at a later date and is called "Tamboon Jaak Khao". Whether 100 days or many years after the cremation, the ritual is identical and the merit is the same.

After photographing the preparations on Thursday, we returned to our home in Udon Thani.  That night, my wife got a phone call from her village.  The people that I had been photographing earlier, wanted to be sure that I was coming back on Friday to take more photographs.   They still had to finish the basahts and had plenty of other work to do.  They also told my wife that there would be many old people and children for me to photograph

I returned as requested the next morning to find plenty of old people, basaht construction, and children to photograph - just as had been promised.

Two men were busy for most of the morning completing the basahts.  They worked carefully and skillfully.  Using ordinary colored tissue paper, silver contact paper, and homemade wax half-sphere candles the men created a unique cultural icon - basaht.

Fringe on a Basaht

Handcrafted Fringe
After about four hours, my mother-in-law came over to have me return to her house.  Duang wanted me back to help out with some things around her mother's house.

Once again, I had been witness to the self sufficient nature of the Lao Loum people of Northeast Thailand.  The people make the most of what is readily available to them.  Their handicrafts help to bind families closer together and bind the families with their neighbors.

Their religious faith and observances also are very important components of their culture - providing a shared past, a common present, and a path to a future together.

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