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My very own baci ceremony
10th January, 2009
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In January 09, I visited a group of Lao students doing fieldwork for their university studies in a village approximately 40kms from Vientiane . The village chief invited me to stay with his family in his house while I was there so I slept 2 nights with them. The chief had studied agriculture abroad after finishing high school and then by reading books, the newspaper and watching television, he managed to learn enough English to the point where I could have a reasonable conversation with him. His daughter was also learning English in Vientiane so I could speak with her.
After these 2 nights the chief told me that his family would like to consider me an adopted son, and asked if I had time before I left Laos to return to visit them and they would hold a traditional baci ceremony for me to 'officially' make me an adopted son and wish me good luck and safe travels on my trip.
I accepted their offer and returned last week before leaving Laos, and was certainly glad I did. For anyone that doesn't know the Lao people believe that we are guarded by 32 spirits who go wandering in the forest etc which is all fine until the person embarks on a new project or a major trip. Before doing so the person should participate in a baci ceremony to bring all their spirits back from where ever they are. I have only participated in baci's with Lao Loum and Hmong and I imagine others ethnic groups have their differences but essentially they are similar. The participants sit around a bouquet of flowers and banana leaves with candles on top, and long pieces of string hanging from the top. Participants must hold onto one of these pieces of string or touch someone who is, while one village person says a lot of stuff in Lao, which I think is basically calling the spirits to come back. After this the village people walk around and tie pieces of string around the participants wrists while praying for them that they have good health, safe travels, successful future as well as more trivial ones such as beautiful wive/s or husbands etc. Because this was my ceremony, the people also placed money in the string so I ended up with 135 000 kip tied around my wrist and my 'new' Dad put 135 000 kip in my pocket. While this is happening one may have a few shots of Lao-Lao and chew on a chicken wing if they are hungry.
After this is finished a feast is enjoyed by all in attendance. This was the 1st baci for me that did not serve laap but as usual for Laos, the food was delicious, spicy and the essential ingredient of sticky rice was present. While dinner is eaten, glasses of beerlao, Lao-Lao and a red wine from Australia that I brought as a gift were passed around to all that wanted. The red wine went down well with the locals with similar expressions to when most falang drink Lao-Lao although the wine maker would not be impressed if they knew it was served in unrinsed glasses that had previously had beer in them.
That night I had to sleep with the bouquet of flowers in my room for extra good luck. In the morning I had to get back to Vientiane to head to Thailand. My dad said I was welcome to come back whenever I wanted, that I could stay for a month and I could bring my family and girlfriend if I wanted. Before I left, the daughter, (my new sister) gave me a gorgeous silk shawl and the parents gave me two wall hangings made out of bamboo and a life scene of a wat in Vientiane made out of rice straw stuck onto cotton. Unfortunately I didn't think Australian quarantine would be too happy with the rice straw (or the coconuts that my dad wanted me to take home to my parents in Australia) so I kindly suggested that they should keep it as a memory of me.
I will always remember the kindness and generosity displayed by a family that I had only known for 3 days and of which 2 members I had to communicate with through the other 2. I would only dream of this happening in Australia and wish that more people in the world followed my dad's belief of 'we do not have much money but we do have a big heart'!!!
#1 Posted: 28/2/2009 - 14:27
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