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31 December 2011


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Belated "happy birthday" !!
I've been down the road from you in Muang Samsip for the last week with my GF and her family, for a number of family activities. Anytime her large family (8 siblings!) get together is cause for much feasting and drinking, so I'm sure that I'll be leaving much heavier ! In a week we've had a family "fishing trip" which actually meant pumping out most of the water from a dam on the farm and then netting/hand catching all the fish/eels/tortoises for a big feed, Papa's birthday, New Year,ending with a wedding tomorrow.
This morning we had something like your ceremony,but to thank the spirits for a brother-in-law surviving a serious motorcycle crash, and wishing him many more years. It had the same sort of centerpiece but smaller, the white threads had money attached, and instead of monks there was a "witchdoctor" as one sister called him ? he looked like a colonial settler, dressed in a white safari suit and pith helmet girlfriend just says to hard to explain. do you know anything more?
Anyway, "Sawadee Pee Mai"


Thanks for the birthday wishes, Mike, and Sawadee Pee Mai to you too! Sounds as if you have had a very enjoyable visit.
Perhaps I should have explained more about the ceremony. The Lao believe that there are 32 kwan (spirits, essences, something like that) but that sometimes they wander away from your body. They are supposed to protect you but they get restless and lazy! A Mor Kwan (or spirit expert, spirit doctor) calls them back, enticing them with the money on the pak kwan, and usually some food such as banana, hard-boiled egg, often some alcohol. He calls them in Lao, not Thai, as this is very much a Lao cerempony. I attended lots when I lived in Laos.
The mor kwan always dresses in white, simple or more often these days in a safari-type suit. You can see the back of ours in a couple of pictures. He's a retired head teacher, and is deputy mayor of a tetsaban (municipality). I've never come across the pith helmet, but I expect the spirits are impressed by it. His chant is partly scripted but mostly improvised according to the circumstances and the person the spirits are being called back to. Often he will chant funny or even bawdy things, so there's usually lots of laughter and people calling out.
The ceremony is always held before or after life-changing experiences: accidents, promotions at work, marriage(s), graduation, arriving, leaving, tat sort of thing.
(I guess you can see why your GF didn't try explaining it all to you.)


This is not a Buddhist ceremony; although monks are sometimes present they don't take part. It almost certainly pre-dates the Lao becoming Buddhist, and you find it in ethnic groups such as the Tai Dum, who are animist and not Buddhist. Most Lao are animist as well as Buddhist, and they keep the two separate.


thanks, the same guy was at the wedding this morning, and did a ceremony after the monks. I got talking with one of the guests, an ex local now living in BKK, uni educated, and he said more or less the same as you, but more cynically...guess he does n't believe in the spirits any more !

Actually, it appears Papa was a Mor Kwan, when he was still well, before I met my GF and the family.
He has been very frail for some time, but keeps hanging in there ....I guess the spirits are looking after him ?

Timmy Anderson

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