Baci ritual remains a centre piece of Lao cultures

A Phakhuan makes a colourfulcentrepiece at a baci ceremony. Participants are seated around the phakhuan.

The baci or Soukhuanis a well-known traditional ritual and has its origins in the ancient customs of past generations.This ceremony has a deep meaning for Lao people, as well as for visitors. A baci ceremony is an important part of Lao culture. The ceremony is reminiscent of Brahmanism and animism. It follows the belief that the human being's main body parts are inhabited by 32, or even more, spirits. In some circumstances, these spirits may leave the body to wander Baci ritual remains a centre piece of Lao culturearound and get lost in the universe, thus causing you to become weak and vulnerable to danger.It's therefore important to call the missing spirits back, so you can be yourself again. This ceremony is performedon important occasions such as births, weddings, farewells, visits, convalescence, and death. In the latter two cases, it comforts members of the family of the ill or dead.Lao people often hold a baci ceremony to call upon the spirits when someone is physically weak.When a family member is sick, older people will hold a baci to call the spirits back home as they believe illness iscaused by the soul's guardian spirits going astray.A baci may also be held to call upon the spirits to protect a person travelling to another country. Other reasons for holding the ceremony include the need to bring luck and prosperity, and success in a professional fi eld.The baci ceremony is most common during the Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year) festival in April, when you will often see people holding a baci in their home or offi ce to bestow good luck and success in the coming year.Participants sit on the fl oor around a plate of fl owers, sweets, a cooked chicken, boiled eggs, a basket of sticky rice, and locally brewed alcohol, known as the phakhuan. Most of the time a morphon (a respected and knowledgeable member of the community) starts the ceremony and calls upon the spirits to return. Then participants tie white threads around one another's wrists while wishing each person good luck.Also threaded through the phakhuan are long white strings.They're held by participants to connect them to those seated closest to the phakhuan, so they too are fully blessed.People gather and sit on a mat around the ceremonial centrepiece, ensuring they avoid pointing their feet towards it and the other participants.Women are expected to wear a traditional silk skirt (sinh) and blouse, while men also dress conservatively.The morphon takes the white thread connected to the phakhuan and places one end in the host's hand and the other in the hand of the person who is to receive blessings.They hold the string between their palms as they pray with the morphon, while he invokes the spirits to bring good luck and success. The morphon closes his eyes and chants in the religious Pali language and sometimes quotes from Lao poetry and proverbs.At a wedding, traditional stories advise the couple about what is expected from a good husband and wife. The ceremony varies in length from 30 minutes to an hour.Participants then throw rice over one another as a symbol of the good luck they have asked for. After the ceremony, the morphon ties the fi rst white blessing thread around the wrists of the main person being honoured.Everyone joins in to tie threads around the wrists of the main celebrant and other people present, while murmuring their best wishes for a happy life.Some people roll up money and tie it inside a white thread which they give to the host.The tying of thread is said to bring luck in health, wealth, work and love.At the end of the ceremony, the morphon tells participants to keep the white thread tied around their wrists if they want their wishes to come true. They have to wait for three days and be careful not to cut them, as the good wishes will be severed if the thread breaks.After the ceremony, the host invites all the guests to eat, which is usually followed by dancing. The purpose of abaci is to build unity among families, friends and relatives. So stretch your legs, prepare your wishes, and discover this charming Lao custom.