The Spirits, Soul, and Ceremonies

By: Jandee Sonhsath






In Laos, there are many types of ethnics groups in Laos such as the Hmong, Mien, Thai, Khmer,, Lao-Theung, Lao etc. Each of these ethnic group differ not only in language but also in their cultural practices. Although lao is the dominant language spoken in Laos, there are also many dialects of lao being spoken. The differences of dialect is in the pronunciation which then classified you into a group or they may even classified you into a separated ethnic group in itself. Although, the dialects may be a little different, what is being say is understood by the people. However, there may be some differences in their customs or ceremonial practices. There are many dialects of the Lao language being spoken in Laos and one of them is Lue. I will be looking at Shamanism for the Lue's perspective point of view.



The belief and wordship of spirits is widely practiced by the Laotion's and also among many Southeast Asian. The ghost spirit (phii) could either be a good or bad one, but most of the time are dangerous and can be harmful to you-and may bring on sufferings to you or your family. The good spirits are known as thewada or pachaou who are like guardian angels living in heaven.



In Baan Bangsa, a little village where my father lived while he was in Laos. According to my father, there's a ghost village or phi baan in every village who oversees the people. The people of the village would worshipped it. In time of need like when disaster strike or when someone is sick, it is believe that the ghost or other evil spirits is the caused. Therefore, a shamanist is called to contact with the spirit to see what is going on and what needs to be done. To contact with the spirits two people are involve. One of the person is called the Navon. His role is chant and play the musical instrument in calling the spirits to come. The other person is called the Thi-Naung; the spirit will come into this person's body when the ceremony is conducted. For the shamans to do this, the person need to bring with them offerings such as 12 pairs of candles, flowers, wine and dried pepper (as a cigarette). When the spirit has enter the thi-naung person, that person will ask for these offerings. After he had his offering, he will asked the people why they are calling him, this is the time when people could ask any questions regarding what happen or what needs to be done to help heal the sick individual.



Laos and Thailand are neighbors. They are similar in many ways such as in the languages; the only differences between the Thai and Lao language is the dialect, style of writing, and pronunciation. Most Lao and Thai people don't have to much trouble communicating to one another. Also, their view about the soul is very similar to each other. The concept of the soul is very complex and is rather complicated in Laos as it is in Thailand. Like the Thai, the soul is known as the khwan. The khwan comes and goes; there is a total of thirty two separated khwan within the body which associates with different parts of the body. For example, there is one for the eyes, hand, stomach, etc. Every human being consists of a total of thirty two all together and of the thirty two there is one strong khwan which is in the body which is known as the winjan. It is fixed within the body until the person dies; that is when the winjan had slip out of the body. "The winjan is less the focus of interest and rites in life, but is the essence which goes on to a new existence after death" (Heinz, 1997). You may go to heaven or be reborn again, depending on what your life was like in that lifetime. The winjan becomes a wondering ghost or phii if proper death ceremony is not performed. When your not feeling good or when your sick, it is believed to be that your soul is not all within your body, therefore a sukhwan ceremony must be done to bring back the soul.



In Laos, the concept of one's soul can be better understood by looking at what happens while you are asleep and dreaming. While dreaming, the soul (khwan) is believed to be out and wondering around. When your soul meets with good spirits while dreaming, you will have a good dream. The khwan is believed to have all (total of thirty two) come back into the body when you are awake and out of the dream. If all your khwan don't all come back it could make the person ill. It could leave the person in a perilous state, which could lead to serious illness or death if the sukhwan (Su-khwan) ceremony is not performed.



To perform any type of sukhwan ceremony, one must make a pakhwan (pa-khwan) which consists of many offerings. One chicken must be sacrificed for this ceremony, other foods and fruits are offered as well. The sukhwan is a string tying ceremony. With this type of sukhwan ceremony to call back the soul lasts approximately anywhere between twenty to thirty minutes. This sukhwan ceremony is never done in the morning but late in the afternoon anywhere between three to seven o'clock. The reason for it is that this is the time when the spirit is out wandering around. The person who is older is usually the one who conduct the ceremony. First he would called the spirit to come. Secondly, food offerings is given to the soul when it has been called back. The third thing you would do is tie the white string around the person's wrist so that the soul will stay inside the body. That white string insures that all your soul will remain in the body. The string is to be kept on the wrist for at least three days.




Heres a photo of the Pakhwan and the ceremony ready to begin








The ceremony has begon and the soul is called upon. The person must put thier hands in a prayer position.





In this photo food offerings and water is given to the soul.


All important events whether its a religious festival, the New Year, new born baby, weddings, graduations etc, is celebrated with a sukhwan- a string tying ceremony. This ceremony is a celebration involving in offering of food and wine. The sukhwan for these types of occasions are done in the morning, where friends and families wish good health and prosperity to each other by tying a white string on to the wrist. Sometimes money is tied on to the wrist as a gift.

Heres a better picture of the Pakhwan. The white string is tied on to the wrist for good luck.



A photo of the Sukhwan ceremony wedding.




Heinz, Carolyn.(1997). Asia, A New Introduction: pg 106