Baci at Ban Chalensouk

Baci at Ban Chalensouk
Baci at Ban Chalensouk

In my last article I described the preparation of Khmu food before the baci ceremony, held in October 2010 at Ban Chalensouk, Luang Namtha province in Northern Laos. Kees and I were happy to be honoured guests and to help our ‘grand daughter’, Khamsouk, celebrate her graduation from college and triumphant return to her village.

The Moh Pohn ties the first string on Kees
The Moh Pohn ties the first string on Kees

Spiritual and ritualistic practices are important to most Lao people. The baci, also called sou khuan, is an ancient pre-Buddhist ritual traditionally conducted by Tai speakers, now widely practised by other Lao citizens, including Kmhmu, who have their own spiritual beliefs and way of doing things. The baci is the most popular Lao traditional ceremony celebrated at special events, whether a marriage, a homecoming, a welcome, a birth, a welcome or even to help cure sickness. Tom Butcher and Dawn Ellis, in their book ‘Laos’, London, a wol book: Pallas Athene, 1993, describe the baci ceremony in detail. This particular baci was held in Khamsouk’s new shop/house. It’s wired for electricity ready for when the power is hooked up. That won’t be for some time yet, though.

Tying strings
Kees trying strings on Khamsouk

The baci ceremony includes the ritualistic tying of cotton threads to ensure blessings of the spirits on specific persons, activities, or places. It is also an important gesture of reconciliation and is believed to restore the natural order of things (Source: LNTA).

After the baci, we adjorned to the tables outside for the feast and lamvong dancing to a local (highly amplified) live band. Lamvong is a circular folk dance, with the women on the outside of the circle and the men on the inside, and each couple dances slowly around each other while progressing around the main circle.

Dancing the lamwong
Dancing the lamvong at Ban Chalensouk. Khamsouk's mother (on the far right) dances with her husband.
Young people dancing
Khamsouk and friends dancing lamvong

Its certainly not hip-hop.  Messages are far more subtle. But it IS a dance of courtship and building of social relationships (without looking at each other or touching, however). It certainly holds people’s interest, old and young – the dancing went on for 7 hours, mainly lamvong, with maybe half an hour of line dancing interspersed! Its a bit risky doing line dancing in Laos for too long!

Lao hai Kmhmu
Lao hai Kmhmu

In the afternoon the lao hai was opened and we imbibed. This is home made Lao rice wine fermented in a pottery jar (hai). Its very tasty and never drunk alone, always at least two people suck the equivalent of 2 glasses full from straws (or these days, IV leads). The jar is then replenished with the same amount of water, and two or more other people take over the drinking. The people who get first crack at the jar get the strongest alcohol, because the water dilutes the brew over time. Occasionally it is stirred with a stick to mix in the water.

Drinking lao hai at Ban Chalensouk 2
Drinking lao hai at Ban Chalensouk - Khamsouk's Dad on the right
Lao hai drinking
Dolly and friends enjoy Lao hai. Both men touch the IV line so the drink is shared.

With Beer Lao, toasts of Lao lao and Lao hai, it is very difficult to remain vertical after a while. Naps are highly recommended throughout the festivities, which gaily continue regardless of where the guests are for a while!  Starting at 11 am, the band packed up at 7 pm. So a slow fade out on this article The next blog will cover making khao poon, Kmhmu style ‘the morning after’.

Party at Ban Chalensouk
Party at Ban Chalensouk - still doing the lamvong at 6 pm!