A special ceremony in Laos called Baci was held during the SSEAYP International General Assembly (SIGA). It is a celebration of a special or important event such as wedding, homecoming, a birth of a child, facilitate a cure, recovery from sickness, welcoming the new year, entering the monkhood, festival or simply honoring visitors & guests of importance.
Baci ceremony is also called Su Kwan meaning “calling of the soul.” It is a Lao animist ritual performed before noon or before sunset at any day of the week and all year long.
It is a Lao ancient belief that the human being is a union of 32 organs. The kwan is a component of soul and considered as vital breath. It watches over and protects each one of the organ. Many kwan are possibly kept together in the body at any one time. It is believed that all kwan is often the attributed cause of an illness. Then the baci ceremony calls the kwan or souls to get back to the body and thus re-establishes equilibrium.
The main component of Baci is the pha kwan which is an arrangement of a cone or horn made of banana leaves sprouting on a silver tray, dish or bowl. It contains flowers, white cotton or silk threads, candles and around the base are food for the kwan.
The white thread symbolizes continuity and brotherhood in the community while the flowers symbolize love, longevity and brilliance. The food such as hard boiled egg symbolizes fetus, fruits & sweets symbolize coming together of several parts, stalk of bananas symbolizes forming of a community, rice wine for purification and boiled whole chicken for divination purposes.
All of us were asked to assemble around the pha kwan and hold each a thread while the important guests lighted up the candle then the elder officiates the ceremony by reciting Buddhist mantras or chants. They call the elder as maw pawn who had been a Buddhist monk once in his life. Everyone in the assembly was in deep silence. Then later everyone offered to tie as many threads to friends and guests present. They wished each one good luck as they tie the threads around the wrist.
I was able to receive several threads. Preferrably, they should be worn around the wrist until they fall off themselves but a minimum of three days is ok and should be untied rather than cut off. Then everyone partake of the food offered. I tried eating a little of everything.
There are steps involved in the ceremony such as the making or preparing of the pah kwan, where the elderly women shared this task. Next step is that the younger people pay respect to the elders. Everyone touches the pah kwan while Buddhist mantra is being chanted. There is the calling of the kwan to return to the body of the person to which the ceremony is intended for. The next stage is the tying of kwan around the extended wrist. Lastly it’s the closing of the ceremony with touching of the pah kwan for several times.
The exciting part of the Baci ceremony is the sharing of meal: Everyone really enjoyed the food offered, then a grand farewell party followed with lots of dancing especially, Lao dances.