Women are men’s future
Every country has its own traditions and every person has to cherish and respect unshakably the customs established by his/her ancestors. At the same time, every group of women and men also feels a vital need to return to his/her sources during the most striking periods of their existence, such as the birth of a child, the marriage or the death of a loved one etc. And each and every woman or man is also obliged to respect the fundamental laws and the rules of her/his community. Otherwise, she/he runs the risk of being rejected forever from her/his social environment.
And like beautiful flowers that attract people, bees and butterflies, women exercise on men an intrusive magnetism and hold them under their charm. If it remains to be proved that woman is the future of man, as said the poets, it’s obvious that without the provocative unconsciousness of the first of the ladies, Eve, the world would not have become the world. At least, according to western history.
It’s life! And nature dictates its laws to young people which give languishing looks to each other at their youngest ages. Smiles and winks of eye are the premises of the first love’s affairs that sometimes could last for a whole life!
Lao wedding has its own rites and codes which the slowness and the decorum could sometimes surprise, even confuse the persons who didn’t possess the code. But it is what makes its charm and its originality… If the marriage has lost many of its old aurain the civilized societies and represents mostly only an administrative formality, or just a stage in one’s life, because of divorces and separation, it remains an essential passage in the life of a Lao nationals. Getting married represents, indeed, the biggest event of their existence, not only for the very newlyweds but especially for their families.
A wedding which had not been celebrated according to Asian societal and culinary traditions, even in the shade of the Eiffel Tower or of the Empire State Building, will be soiled by a perfume of doubt and suspicion. And the gossips will spread unfriendly, injurious and hostile rumors on the couple and its family. So, for Lao society, the only official union with its sacred values is the traditional Lao wedding.
In Laos, home to hiding traditions and respect for invisible beings, the candidate for the marriage has to achieve a quite difficult course, often very long, sinuous and full of pitfalls, before he could get married with his beloved one. If the youngsters living in the city have a relative freedom of meeting and sorties, especially since the advent of the economic development accompanied with the emancipation of the young women who can now have a job while studying, the country people can declare their flames only on the discreet supervision of a member of the ladies family. And in quite special condition.
These love conversations, based on long silence and commonplace words, constituted one of the most charming traditions of Laos: the course of love or lomsao. The phoubao (young man), who is in love with a phousao (young woman) of his village, will call on her in the evening, accompanied with one or several friends, to try to make her understand his deep sentiments. Then, in the silence of the night, the very typical music of the khène -a sort of a mouth organ with stalks of bamboo- will fly over the village until all the phoubao are settled at phousao’s home.
In 1885 and 1990, two Frenchmen, Paul Néis (Sur le Laos. In Bulletin de la société d’anthropologie de Paris, année 1885, N°8, p.41-58) and Dr Georges Maupetit (Moeurs loatiennes. In Bulletin et mémoires de la société d’anthropologie de Paris, VIIe série, Tome 4, fascicule 5, 1913, p. 457-554), had alrealdy seen these social events of lombao-lomsao with the sounds of khène here and there in villages at the begenning of the night.
Under the light of kabong
Before the widespread use of electricity in Laos in the years 1980-1990, it was under the light of the torch-Kabong made of wood resin mixed with benzoyl – that young people exchanged their deep feelings, but in half words, due to the presence of a family member, and using countless floral metaphors.
– In your gardens, you have the most beautiful roses of the village and mom would like to have a cutting…
« My mother would be very happy to do so, but she is afraid that our rose is not a good enough strain. »
These love conversations were made sometimes in alternated singings or lam and accompanied with Mo-Khène (a player of khène). A more professional version of these love course is proposed during a boun (party) or family ceremonies such as a marriage, a welcome ceremony to a new born baby and his mom, a birthday etc. with a couple of morlams. Without any text, the man and the woman, very talented and endowed with a particular talent called or–nam-lay (ອໍ້ນໍ້າໄຫລ), are engaged in a verbal joust which can last a whole night. The lam or singing conversations, which respect quite strict versification codes, can sometimes touch the vulgar especially when it is about sex, but it also happens that they are of a very high linguistic level brought up with metaphors, hyperbolas and images. Some morlam has become real stars because of their exceptional vocal quality.
The khène, the sound of which is situated between the music produced by an harmonica and an accordion, is made of long stalks of bamboo, assembled around a piece of wood of which a hole had been drilled and by which Mo-khène blows by making vary notes thanks to small openings drilled in the bamboo. In a village festivals, the morlan can be accompanied by a small orchestra. Besides the player of khène, we could have a drummer, a cymbal player or of khouy (a bamboo flute) as well as a two ropes’ violinist, called a sô.
Because of this very strict setting of exchanges, the first real loving meetings thus take place at school and in the numerous bouns at home or in the pagoda. In the countryside, young people also take advantage of collective sorties (fishing, mushrooms’ or bamboo shoots’ pickings), as well as of community works in the field (transplanting, harvest etc.) to built the first threads of their love. Generally, these affairs are rather quickly transformed into an engagement and into marriage in countryside while high school students’ affairs could, sometimes, resist to the wearing times and certain classmates even ended as husband and wife.
However, Paul Néis had noted in 1885 that young Lao women in the Luang Phrabang region were quite free to look for their lovers. « When they were 12 or 14 years old, young women would go out every evening under the moonlights. By groups of 50, 100 or more, they would then go to the outskirts of the city while singing and laughing. At the same time, young men and ever married men would wait for them. During rainy evenings and those without moonlights, the ladies would wait for their lovers in front of the doors, under a shelters, and with a lamp near them (…) When a young lady had chosen her man, she’d hold out her hand to him, sometimes she’d light a cugarette before giving it to him. »
And as soon as two persons fall really in love, they’d ask their parents to get acquainted in order to begin the preliminary conversations that could end with a marriage. Several meetings could often be indispensable before finding a final agreement. According to the regions, three visits are particularly important. The first one is about getting to know each other’s intents, called the Khan Thâme, the second visit is about commitment, called Khan Pharm and, finally, the engagement itself, called Khan Mark Dèng.
In Laos, the engagement constitutes one of the most delicate stages of the marriage because everything could still collapse. The introduction’s visit is generally carried out, not by the own parents of the future bridegroom, but by the close relations of the family to whom we entrusted the mission to go to test the ground. They are called Phor-shû / Mè-shû or loaned parents, who have to be a well united couple which had already founded a stable family.
On the agreed evening, Phor-shû and Mè-shû would go to the residence of the young woman. After a traditional exchange of politeness, the visitors would present to their hosts a small tray containing some money, the betel, chewing tobacco etc., the symbols of the goodwill mission. It is the contents of the bowl, that has only a symbolic value, which gives its Lao name of Khan-thâme (literally a request’s tray). Then, the visitors would explain the reasons of their visit to the parents of the future fiancée:
– Our cousin or nephew would like to have the honors to become your son-in-law. Could he have any hope?
If the discussions turn out to be conclusive, a new date is fixed for what’s called a deepening’s visit. The young man’s own parents would then conduct the new delegation that also included very close relations of the family. The use of loan parents is intended to avoid the loosing of face to the real parents in case of a failure. Family honors hold a dominating place in Asian societies. And to lose face in such an occasion would constitute the worst of the dishonours, in particular in the countryside where everybody knows everybody.
According to Paul Néis, in 1885, once a girl had chosen her man, she’d ask for a small sum of money and a promise to get a much bigger one on the wedding day. « From then on, he will give the hand to his fiancée every evening. And, during September and October, they will go to pick guava outside Luang Phrabang on the 7th day of the (increasing and decreasing) moon in order to remember their first rendez-vous at the guava’s field. »
In the 1910, Dr Georges Maupetit had seen phoubao and phousao having cours d’amour at the wat (pagoda) during Buddhist festival. He had also noted that « once a man has told his lover that he’d like to marry her, he’ll accepted in the family and will go alone to her house every evening to court her under the supervision of her parents. And when the old persons fall asleep, the lady would let her fiancée have the taste of what they would experience once they become married. »
The engagement visit
The commitment’s visit, which we can also call a reservation’s visit, is led by the own parents of the young man and has to include the most eminent members of his family (grandparents, uncles, aunts etc.) as well as the loan persons who will serve as a spoke-person. Once again, we try to avoid the embarrassment and the dishonor to the real parents in case of problems. After the usual formalities, the visitors would present to their hosts a tray containing flowers, candles, wax patches and a certain sum of money. By accepting this present, both parties make then a commitment to marry their children and to guarantee, in case of desertion of one of both young people, a moral and material compensation.
At this stage, it is still possible to break the agreement under certain specific conditions contrary to the engagement itself. Because of its reservation’s function, this visit is called in Lao Khan-pharm. And once the date of the engagement was fixed, the family-host usually offers a dinner to honor its future in-laws family.
In the evening of the fiançailles, the whole family of the young man, in festive dresses, as well as the loan parents will bring to the future bride’s house a pig, money, the betel and chewing tobacco, as well as some alcohol. After the meal, which serves as an ideal introduction, both parties will try to agree on the amount of the dowry (kha-dông), the date of the marriage and all technical aspects of the festivities. In certain villages, these discussions take place in the absence of the would be brides and can sometimes look like a carpet salesmen’s bargaining…
In Laos, the young man has to bring the dowry to his future wife and also to her family in order to symbolically fill the physical and emotional absence of the lady who is going to leave her home by getting married. In this way, the balance and the harmony, necessary for the psychological well-being of all human beings, is maintained in spite of the departure of a member of the family. At the same time, the young wed will not have regrets and will be able to start her new life peacefully, her woman and wife’s life full of joy.
The members of both families at this ceremony, called Khan mark dèng (literally a red tray probably because of a Chinese influence where the red is the color of the marriage and the happiness par excellence), have a moral obligation to the future couple. They also have to help the new household by bringing a trousseau and sometimes a financial contribution.
In the countryside, the new fiancée would mostly share a glass of rice alcohol with her future husband to seal the agreement of lovers and to show the community that she is not free any more. She will wait until the day of her wedding to receive a golden ring or necklace. In the cities and more well-to-do families, a diamond ring is given to the elected woman as a symbol of love and to show the society that she belongs to someone from now on. So she will deserve accordingly consideration and respect due to her fiancée’s status from the society.
In the 1910, Dr Maupetit had underlined that, when two young persons who loved each other for such a long that they no longer had secret to hide, they just needed the consent of their two families to get married. According to Article 7 of the Code civil « there will be no marriage without the consent from the parents of the future spouses. »
The Khadong could have two different contents according to the choice of the future couple: if the man decides to become a resident son-in-law(and live at his wife’s home), and in case he chooses to be his own family chief (and live in his own house).
The festivities of a Lao wedding
In Laos, a prince marriage (before the advent of the Republic in December, 1975) or that of very well-to-do people contains a particular ceremonial compared with the practice of ordinary people. The day of the wedding, carriers in charge of trays, the number of which can go to 200, will go in the early morning to the residence of the fiancée to present her with the agreed presents, besides the dowry itself which will be directly handed to the parents-in-law.
According to the ritual requests and answers, they have to contain a « dagger with glass sleeve and with golden flick knife, some material of hairstyle which measures eight breaststroke, a silk sampot, curious clothes, a bouquet of flowers in the sensational colors « . At the bridal house’s entry, the procession is welcomed by representatives of the fiancée. They exchange good words of welcome and some rice alcohol. They sing and dance in a joyful atmosphere. And with the usual exaggeration in these festive occasions, the leader of the future bridegroom’s delegation will assert having brought « baskets filled with silver, the other tucks of gold, with the others still filled with quality clothes… » The same morning, both families organize separately a small Baci in honor of the future husband and wife.
If the son-in-law had decided to live under the roof of his wife, his parents-in-law would actually take only a symbolic dowry, called dowry lèng-tine-kheui (literally fixation of the feet of the son-in-law so that he does not go away). It is, generally, a little silver bullion. They do naturally fix the amount of the khadong, but the family of the bridegroom prefers to leave it with the couple. The complete dowry would however be demanded in case of break or divorce. In return, the resident son-in-law has to make a commitment to take care of the parents of his wife, to help them, to respect them and to share everything with them… He also has to promise to love his wife, never to deceive her or make her and her family lose their honor!
Both families have to share all the expenses of the marriage and the relatives will give needed assistance (a cousin offers a buffalo, an uncle a pig, an aunt chickens, another aunt eggs and rice etc.). But according to Lao customs, the fiancée is responsible for the trousseau: bed, mattress, blanket, sheet… In the well-to-do circles or noble families, the number can go from 12 to 24 for every element of the bedroom: 12 or 24 pillows, 12 or 24 pillows etc.
In-law chef of his family
If the son-in-law becomes a head of the family and take his wife to live in his own house, the khadong is often more substantial than in the case of the resident son-in-law. The parents-in-law also require, in theory, the payment of the complete dowry. However, they only take a small part of it actually, preferring to give the money to the couple in order to help them start their new life under the best conditions. In case of a divorce, the unfaithful son-in-law has to pay the part of the dowry left with the couple.
In certain regions of Laos, two dowries have to be presented to the family of the bridegroom, whatever the choice of the newlyweds. The first one, the Kha Khun Phi (offerings to the spirits), is compulsory and intended for the protecting geniuses. Its amount, variable according to the social position of the fiancée, is fixed by customary rules. The second, the khadong itself is presented to the family of the bride.
Apart from the Khadong, which can include material effects besides money and gold, the family of the bride can require compensations from its future son-in-law, if the latter is a widow or a divorcee. In general, a golden bracelet or chain is given to the young woman in order to compensate the fact that she has got married to a used man while she has remained pure and intact until her marriage. This practice is supposed to insure her physical and psychic balance, indispensable to her self-fulfillment, which would risk to be broken if she realizes that she is less worthythat the other women of her age, which had got a first-hand husband! It is always the perpetual search for the famous balance between the body and the spirit, between the visible and invisible that is so important to the nationals of the South-East Asia.
Another complement to the dowry is often desirable if the bride still has single brothers or/and sisters older than her. The future son-in-law will offer to these members of his in-law family small golden jewels. Here, it is not a question of compensation, but of prevention. According to Lao traditions, we are afraid that such an union would prevent elder brothers/sisters from finding their own soul mates!
An old story : The dowry
Three main reasons justify the practice of the khadong: a survival of the old customs; a material link and a token of solidity of the household, and finally an agent of balance. At first, it’s a survival of very old customs which went back up to the times when Laos was still divided into several kingdoms, governed by independent and often rival kings. The marriage between princes and princesses was then mostly a marriage of convenience and was guided by a subtle military strategy: become allied with such kingdom to wage war against the third one and conquer its territory.
The negotiations were often very long and difficult, because the princes had usually the same family origins. So they were obliged to rise the bids to obtain the reunification of a neighbor. So, a king who held a strategic position and who had a son to marry would receive proposals of fabulous dowries from other royal families. With hundreds of elephants and slaves, hundreds of trays of gold and of silver, the food at will as well as jewels and precious stones. Sometimes, a portion of the territory of the kingdom was included. The festivities could last weeks and exceeded the understanding!
The common people, who attended in dazzled spectators from far away or was a servant in these princely marriages, transposed the same ceremonial into its own social environment. They were persuaded that what made the government was good and must be imitated. For them, the princes and the kings were simply the alive embodiment of Gods! The same phenomenon of mimicry keeps on having the same effects nowadays. Otherwise, we’d not say that a president’s wife or a queen is the best ambassadresses of the lifestyle of a country!
The khadong also represents the material designed to strengthen the union between a man and a woman who do love each but who are connected by no official document as in Europe or the United States. For the notables and the family, the dowry thus represents a moral and material obligation for the couple to remain faithful to its union. The moral meaning of the dowry turns out to be far much important than its real monetary value.
However and in certain regions of Laos, the newlyweds sign a document called Bay-namtane in front of the Phobane (village’s chief) just after the traditional ceremony of Baci.
And finally, the khadong has an important social and psychological function. It is seen as an agent of balance by the family which has to give up her daughter, the psychological vacuum created by her departure to live in their new home with her husband is symbolically filled by the dowry. Furthermore, the amount of the dowry also serves to place the position of the couple in the society. The dowry is presented to the family of the bride just before the arrival of the bridegroom for the Baci.
Of animistic and Brahmanical origins, the Baci or soukhouane which can be literally and improperly translated by the appeal and the reception of the wandering souls, is a rite which is strongly tinged with references to the Buddhism. That’s why we evoke, before every prayer of khouane the Triple Jewel (Buddha, his teaching, his followers) and we recite three times the Namo and the Tissarana.
The social function of the Baci concerns not only the marriage but also extends to practically all the stages of the life for a Lao nationals: a birth, a success at an examination, a promotion, a birthday, a convalescences, the Pimay of course, a departure for a long journey etc. We also organize a Baci to honor a relative or a personality who come to visit us, and son on…
The Khouane prayer turns out to be necessary because of the very unstable nature of the soul inside each of the 32 parts of our body and who can leave us in the slightest change: disease, big emotion or sadness, a too big enjoyment … Once again, we’re looking for balance, harmony between the body and the spirit, in order to remain healthy and have a happy life. So, it is indispensable to call back, from time to time, the wandering souls so that they re-enter our body.
The ceremony of the Baci is chaired by an officiating priest called Morphone who’ll ask, with his prayers, the wandering souls to come back home and to make them reinstate the body of the persons honored by the Baci. Then, we’ll tie sacred cotton cords around the wrists of the persons we honored to make sure that the Khouanes won’t get out again. Sitting in front of the Phakhouane (the souls’ meals tray), the Morphone has in front of him the persons for whom we organize the Baci.
The souls’ food plateau is surmounted by cones in banana tree leaves (or green paper) filled with flowers and where are suspended the ritual cotton cords. There are also cakes, fruits, eggs, chicken (two for a wedding Baci), glutinous rice, alcohol and diverse presents. At the top of the big cone, we place a candle which the priest lights at the beginning of the ceremony. The Phakouane and its contents are intended to attract the wandering souls and to incite them to return to their foyer. For a wedding Baci, two Phakhouane are placed side by side, as well as the newlyweds. A thread of sacred cotton unites them with both trays of souls and with the priest. After the prayer of khouane, we tie cotton cords around the wrists of the couple. At the same time, we can offer the souls’ meal, valuable presents or money to the couple while presenting them our best wishes of happiness.
The wedding Baci is necessary not only to show the society that the man and the women honored today are, from now on, husband and wife and united by the unchanging links of the marriage, but also because of the need of balance, harmony between the body and the spirit (we would never marry two persons with an unstable psychological situation). In fact, there are two sorts of wedding Baci: a family Baci, called small Baci and organized at each of the future spouses’ home, and the bridal Baci itself.
The small Baci
In the morning of the wedding day (the Baci has to take place before 11 am), the parents and relatives of the future couple organize a family Baci to wish good luck to their son and daughter in their new life. It’s a special opportunity for the two young persons, who are going to establish their own home sweet home, to show their gratitude to their creators and to apologize to them for the faults which they could have commit consciously or by the thought. At this occasion, the families can make presents to the newlyweds. The prayer of the small Baci would remind their birth and their childhood to the future husband and wife, while presenting them with the wishes of success and good health (see frame below).
At the end of this ceremony, the future bridegroom, holding a plateau with candles and flowers, will fellow his/her mother in the various parts of the house to beg the forgiveness from the doors (that we mistreat by pushing by feet), the kitchen, the pans and so on… At the same occasion, the young people light candles and incense sticks to request the protection, the blessing and the condolence of the genius guardians so that their couple will always be in a perfect harmony and a total happiness. This quest of forgiveness is also in accordance with the necessity of balance and harmony, sources of happiness, and also answers the Buddhist principle of karma which stipulates the correlation between objects and beings.
The Laotians get married during the even months and in increasing moon’s periods, apart from the tenth and twelfth lunar months (because of works at the fields and respect for the Buddhist fast). The best moment is the sixth month, just after the Lao New Year. So, the sixth day of the increasing moon of the sixth month would be an ideal date. We believe that the marriages celebrated during these periods of the year will bring a harmonious and beneficial development to the new couple.
The day before the W-day, sometimes two or three days before, parents, friends and neighbors call on the residence of the future bride for a joyful and useful evening, because there are so much to do before a Lao marriage! The rice alcohol and the beer pour at will.
The hosts offer to their visitors the Khaopoun (noodles of rice mixed with vegetables finely cut, some mint, some coriander, the whole watered with a sauce made with fish or with meat, with some coconut milk and hot peppers etc.) and the Làp (Lao tartar steak, a festive dish par excellence) served with the inescapable glutinous rice. This small party carries the Lao name of Oun-dong (literally the marriage’s warm-up).
The bridal Baci
With both fiancés, their parents, relatives, their families, friends and guests, the bridal Baci takes place mostly in the evening when, after the big heat of the day, people and spirits are in a more favorable situation that could contribute to the success of everything.
In many parts of Laos, the future bride, adorned with jewels and with her most beautiful clothes (silk blouse, silk skirt embroidered with golden and silver threads), is sitting first in front of the Phakhouane. She will have, according to Laotian beauty’s canons, a very high bun on the head, slightly tilted to the right, with a golden necklace all around. At its top will be a golden flower… She also wears a silk scarf to complete her gala dresses! In some regions, it could be the bridegroom who will wait for his fiancée.
In the first case, the future husband’s procession, led by the sound of the Khène and the small cymbals as well as the songs announcing to the mother-in-law that her son-in-law is coming (Mè-thào euï, louk kheï my lè ແມ່ເຖົ້າເອີຍ ລູກເຂີຍມາແລ້ວ) will approach the bridal house. At the front door, the family of the young woman stops the procession to ask about the intentions of the visitors who will then offer a glass of alcohol to their hosts as a mark of their good intention and a means of requesting for the entrance. An exchange of comments and glasses of alcohol will follow every question and answer in the cheerfulness and the general enjoyment. Sometimes, he has to “open” three doors by offering alcohol and a small sum of money.
Dressed in a white shirt with golden facings and in a silk sarong, raised back between the legs up to the knees, the future bridegroom, protected by a parasol held by a bosom friend -who is also his best man called a replacement son-in-law in Laos, holds in his hand a pair of candle and flowers, symbols of his sincerity and the purity of his feelings.
Before entering the house of his in-law family, a girl – a niece, cousin of his fiancée- washes his feet with some perfumed water and he should thank her with a small amount of money. This practice is doubtless connected to a material necessity (formerly, people did not wear shoes and it was thus necessary to wash the feet of the future bridegroom of the impurities met on his way). But it’s also the need to symbolically cleanse the man who is officially welcomed for the first time, so that he can arrive in his new family as pure and innocent as a newborn child.
A woman, who is a close relative of the bride and who has already succeeded in her couple’s life, will hold his hand before leading him to settle down at the right of his fiancée, in front of the Phakhouane and the officiating priest. The bridal Baci can begin from then on.
Before the soukhouane, the khadongis presented to the bride’s parents. The acceptance by the latter of the tray containing the dowry (money, jewels, clothes, flowers) corresponds symbolically to the official reception/acceptance in their family of the son-in-law. The young couple sometimes signs a customary marriage certificate where are listed in particular the belongings of each other, in front of the officiating priest.
Contrary to the prayer of the small Baci, that of the bridal Baci is mostly composed of appeals to the wandering souls so that they re-enter the bodies of the newlyweds and to stay forever (see encadré below).
After the khouane’s prayers, the officiating priest, the parents, relatives and the family, the friends as well as the guests present their best wishes of happiness to the newlyweds by tying ritual cotton cords around their wrists. According to Lao tradition, the mom of the bridegroom will offer one or two golden bracelets to her daughter in-law. This present contains a very particular symbolic value: its represents the acceptance of the young woman in her new family.
After the wishes’ presentation, the newlyweds give themselves mutually half of an boiled egg and drink a little alcohol in the same glass. They do show to the whole society their love, their union and their will to share everything from this moment. The officiating priest concludes then the Baci’s ceremony by giving the phakhouanes to the new couple which will keep them in the bridal room at least during three days. According to the tradition, the new couple should not leaves for honeymoon before the end of this lapse of time. Then, the newlyweds have a last customary formality to carry out before going to join their guests: the forgiveness’ request.
In order to show their gratitude and to ask for forgiveness, the newlyweds will present to the main personalities of their families a pair of candle and flowers with, sometimes, a banknote. According to the importance of the family links or the social rank of the beneficiaries, the couple will put on their knees or remains standing before giving the object of the forgiveness. Then, they will greet them by lowering slightly their head, hands joint together at the level of the heart, as the symbols of their respects.
– Dad, mom (or uncle, aunt, cousin), we ask you not to hold breaches, which we could have commit, deliberately or by the thought, against you.
– My children, you are free from now on from any criticism. I forgive you and I wish you a lot of enjoyment, an immense happiness and an excellent health. May you have adorable children and may you are swamped with wealth and with success, will then answer the person who accepted the object of the forgiveness.
The forgiveness’ request, Phiti sombad-somma in Lao, has once more the same goal as all the previous ritual actions: the need of balance and harmonybetween the body and the spirit for the new couple so that they can start their married life in the best possible psychological conditions.
And it is also because of this ceaseless quest of harmony that explains the intervention of Buddhism in the process of a Lao marriage.
Before getting married and establishing his own family, young Lao persons have to spend a few days or weeks in a monastery as a novice or a bonze. During his stay, the young person will try to make an assessment of his existence, to meditate on the sense of the life and to learn, at the same time, some fundamental teachings of Bouddha.
If he stays at a vat-pa (Forest’s tradition pagoda), the refuge of the masters living according to the original Buddhism, he’ll spend time to meditate in order to find by himself his body thanks to the observation of the various parts of his person. It will allow him to know and to master their functioning. It is the basic principle of this school: to know oneself will allow us to have a better understanding of the environment which surrounds us -the close one at first and more distant late on, as well as other living beings. Either they are human or not.
A better knowledge of our body will lead us towards the door of the Knowledge and towards well-being and happiness. Thanks to this knowledge of oneself as well as the close and distant environment, we shall always know how to protect ourselves from the ceaseless excitement of the outside world by making on our abdominal breath and the blood circulation.
To be at ease, to feel comfortable in his/her body, it’s simply the most precious goods which we can have in this tempestuous, murderous and merciless century for the weak ones! And because they are looking for that feel-good sensation in their body and spirit, because they want to be in perfect adequacy with themselves and their environment that the future bridegrooms go to the pagoda to make offerings to the bonzes and to make thanksgivings just before their marriage.
In general, the day before the bridal Baci, the future couple would go to the closest pagoda to make offerings to the bonzes and do an action of sharing and gratitude. The two young people will attend together the blessing by the monks of the perfumed water in which float flowers’ petals. The bonzes will burn wax candles conceived specially for the occasion over a bowl while reciting prayers. There are three candles for each of the fiancés and the length of which corresponds to that of their tour of head, forearm (from the elbow to the forefront of the major) and of their trunk (from the navel to the the neck).
It is the souat-lot-nam (prayer of purification in the lustral water). Once there’re back home, the future couple will wash themselves with the holy water while making wishes of good health, happiness, love and so on. By doing so, they cleanse themselves symbolically of all the material and spiritual impurities before entering their new life clean and innocent as a baby who has just been born…
Sometimes, the family invites the bonzes to the residence of the future bridegrooms where will take place the offerings, thanksgivings and souat-lot-nam. Once all these actions are done, the two persons can get married and live happily in an eternal harmonious love.
Little Baci’s prayer (abstract)
“Today, it is the lucky day and the day of chance. This Khouanes’s plateau is in previous wood, this vase in emerald, raised by the parents and the notables so that I can come here to call you, O beloved khouanes! After ten months inside your mother’s womb, the pain swamps her. The parents and grandparents, alerted, run up. Your mother writhes in pain as if she was going to die. Your mother faints (…) And she then gives birth to an lovely baby who falls on the back if you are a girl and on the stomach if are you a boy. Your mom embraces you and cries out:
– From now on, you are my beloved child and I shall raise you!
« Your mother drinks some hot water that burns her mouth to find her shape. Your mother lies down on a bed under which sparkle embers (…) Worried by your tears, your mother prays so that you are not frightened. She sings you a rocking chairs: Sleep, my child. Your parents love you as the pupil of their eyes. The milk of your mother is warm, drink it slowly (…)” May powerful and brave persons love you and help you.
« May your khouane return to your body this very day! Your parents implore so that they go back into your body. Today, it’s the lucky day, today it’s the day of chance and the day of the merits … May your khouane not to drink water in the imprints of the squirrels when it is raining. May they do not go to cool themselves in the tracks of buffaloes and oxen when the sun shines (…)
« May you be always healthy! May you live 100 years! May the misfortunes spare you. May the wealth accumulate in your foyer and may you become a respectful and respected notable. Your father will find you a deserving wife, don’t be worried. May you always be a good, generous and pious person (…)
« Have a good health! Long life and so much happiness in your life … «
« Today, it’s a lucky day. Today, it’s the day of chance and merits. This tray is in precious wood, this vase in emerald, raised with love by the grandparents, with sacred cotton’s cords, with rings, the chicken and the diversified food. With also delicious perfume flowers, some alcohol, rice puddings and eggs.
« Gods agree so that you become a wife according to our old traditions. Carry the tray of flowers in front of your eyes, present the trays of forgiveness’ request with some money and flowers. Your husband loves you. His family, his grandparents and his friends are also here, ready to help you, to organize this luxuriously marriage of the beloved girl.
« O 32 khouane of the birth, please return this very day to the body of the beautiful bride. 32 khouane of the bridegroom, please return this very day. Multicolored flowers welcome you, o beloved khouane, please return and stay in the body of these two affectionate beings.
« Please come back, o khouane of the head, return to the head by the nerve of hair as oil which enters anointing and perfuming. Khouane of the hairs and lashes, khouane of the fingers of the right hand and the left hand, please return this very day. Khouane of the feet, softly protected by invaluable shoes, do not roam by chance, the sky thunders, please hurry up to go back home! O khouane of the eyes, return in the eyes, do not stop looking pointlessly at any goshawk …
“Your parents, your friends, your family, the notables present you their best wishes of happiness by tying you with the cords of sacred cotton so that you formed a close and happy couple. May you find honor and bliss. May you have adorable children, charming girls and boys without criticism. Intelligent, precious and sociable children.
“May God and goddess give you their blessing and protection through these crowned trays full of flowers. May your 32 khouane return this very day and when the sun lies down behind the forest, may the khouane of the bride returns to her body. O khouane, even if you are in the other end of the horizon, please return this very day. Your khouane that still get lost with old loves, please return this very day!
“Please come back to perfume yourself with the flavor of your mother, please return in flowers braided in the bun of the bride! O khouane, people are asking for you and want to see your face. They all say that you have so many virtues. Please come back and eat the meals prepared for you, please come home and make this young couple of lovers share the egg of love according to our old traditions!
« Today, it’s the lucky day, today the arms of the young couple cross themselves and embrace each other this very day. Attics full of rice, the house filled with jewels and with money, it is this very day…
« You, the son-in-law, be modest and show yourself generous and thoughtful to your wife. And you the daughter-in-law, love your mother in-law. Please don’t be talkative and never speaks badly of your husband. And you, the young couple, if you eat some meat, please think of the aunts and the uncles. If you eat some fish, share it with your family …
« O khouane, please return now! The husband’s khouane, come to cherish your wife, return to bed when it’s dark, the khouane of the head liking the pillows (…)
« Long life to both of you! Please be a happy and loving couple all your life. And have many, many children! «