How Lao People Welcome a Baby – Humnoy’s Phakhouane

I feel like a traveler having gone to Laos and back. I ate a ton of Lao food made by Lao people, I have spoken broken-Lao all too wrongly and have some missing belongings. (Lao people always lose their sandals.) I don’t own a passport therefore I have just been at my parents’ place helping prepare for the big celebration. Humnoy is trying to adjust back to his schedule at home (and it’s been a week!), which doesn’t coincide with the average bedtime at 11:30 at his grandparents. The weekend was a great success filled with good food, slumber parties with out-of-town family and lots of laughs.

*Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the ceremony even though I have attended many for funerals, weddings and other life celebrations. I am writing about our celebration for the birth of my family’s first grandson. I consulted a website that has great information regarding our culture’s celebration and address it accordingly to relate to my post. The website was chock full of descriptions and history and it was an amazing resource to have to put “words” to things I have seen or heard at functions like this but never fully understood.

Photos courtesy of my “cousin Kevin.” He was the only one who took pictures! Apologies for the blurry vision!

His poukhan ceremony was tentatively held at 10:00 am but on “Lao time,” as my husband dotingly calls it, it started a good 20 minutes later. I lit the candle on top of the phakhouane, which is made up of banana leaves and flowers and has long cotton blessing threads attached to it.

The phakhouane has a very important role in the ritual: as a symbolic offering to the assembled gods and a a welcome mat and gift for the returning khouanes, just as Lao hospitality usually welcomes a quest with a meal.

A community elder that is “chanting” some blessings to the strings, which are an integral part of the ritual. That is my grandfather, Humnoy’s great-grandfather, on the stool (he has a lot of health problems). Isn’t he so cute?

During the ceremony, the mophone invokes the power and magic of the gods and the guardian spirits, seeking ther blessings. The threads, which should have knots on the middle to contain these blessings, thus appear as receptacle of an exterior magical power that make them different from ordinary threads ad give them meaning and value accepted, respected and understood by the participants of the ritual.

We are deemed as “guests of honor” at this ceremony therefore we are holding the long strings. My poor husband and his cyclist legs couldn’t sit the Lao-way such as the men in the above picture.

Prior to the beginning of the ceremony, the mophone would give these long pieces to the [guest] of honour. The mophone would hold the other end of the same piece in his hands on a praying position while conducting the ritual.

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I am receiving the first blessing from the elder by holding an egg and an apple (a food offering) while touching the phakhouane.

During the tying of these threads friends and family would show unity and support for the person having their wrist tied by holding the arm being tied or other parts of the person’s body. Others can join in this act of support by touching someone else who has the physical contact with person.

It is now an opportunity to spread the blessings during the ritual. They usually wish good health, for more children and to be good to one another. For kids and from what I remember, the adults always made sure the blessings were to obey your parents, get good grades and stay out of trouble!

The tying of the threads symbolizes the reinforcement of the body’s strength, an act that restores bodily as well as spiritual and social equilibrium, essential for well being and happiness. It is a way of binding khouane within the boundary of the physical body.

Once the blessings have gone around, it is food and party time.

Did you catch the last two pictures? Later that afternoon, a friend and I had to drop him off at home to sleep it off. He was very sweet about it but was absolutely wasted! I hope you got the feel for our culture with the pictures and the text.

Have you been to cultural ceremonies before other than your own (Mexican quinceañera, American Thanksgiving, etc.)? What was your favorite part(s) about those celebrations or those of your own culture’s?


4 thoughts on “How Lao People Welcome a Baby – Humnoy’s Phakhouane

  1. Thanks for sharing… I love Lao party:-).. Plenty of foods and drinks to go around. You guys even got a one man band for entertainment.

    BTW, tell your cousin Kevin not to drink any coffee on his next photography session. lol

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