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Riding the buses » Cultural travel, Laos, Memorable moments, Travel itinerary » The Baci Ceremony: White threads, banana leaves and marigolds

The Baci Ceremony: White threads, banana leaves and marigolds

You often see banana leaves rolled into small cones and decorated with marigolds in Southeast Asia. They are sold at markets everywhere, at temples, and other sacred places. These banana leaf decorations are called makbeng and are used in the Baci Ceremony that has been practiced in Laos for hundreds of years.

During the ceremony, called ‘su kwan’, white strings are attached to the makbeng and then around the wrist of the person being honoured. The thinking is that there are 32 organs in the body and that each is watched over and protected by a spirit. While it is important that the spirits stay together for balance to be maintained, from time-to-time some wander off. The white strings tie the 32 spirits to the body and reestablishes equilibrium. This brings good luck and prosperity.

A baci is held for both sad and happy times. Usually one is held for special events such as a marriage. After the birth of a baby there is a baci to welcome the baby and to call back the mother’s spirits that may have wandered during childbirth. If someone is feeling weak, either physically or spiritually, a baci is held to raise the spirits. There are many reasons to hold one for the aim is to set someone’s life on the right path. There can be a baci simply to boost someone’s confidence when a bit more luck in life is needed.

Other items are usually included in the ceremony because they are considered to bring good luck such as hardboiled eggs (symbol of the fetus), fruits and sweets (symbolizing the coming together of several parts), a bottle of rice whisky (for purification), and a whole chicken.

An elder, ideally an ex-monk, should officiate, chanting and calling the spirits. The threads used are white because white is the color of peace, good fortune, honesty and warmth. The baci threads are worn for at least three days or preferably until they fall off by themselves. They should be untied rather than cut off.

So the people in Southeast Asia use a village-approach to help someone regain equilibrium and with it prosperity and happiness.

By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2012

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