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      Lao Traditions: Sa Ba Dee!
  the country boon blessing ceremony music and dance
  Wat Lao Buddhavas      
  lesson plans resources traditional artists  

Image of Map of LaosLaos
Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia with a population of 4 million people. Once a part of the Cambodian Empire, Laos became a part of French Indochina in 1893 and was granted full independence in 1953. After the French departed, a protracted civil war ensued, involving first the French and then the Americans. In 1975, the Communist government took control .Several hundred thousand Lao fled to Thailand, and many were eventually resettled in the United States.

Image of Lao Community at WorshipWhen the Lao first came to Iowa, language was the biggest barrier. They feared Americans would neither understand their culture nor permit them to practice their traditions. Despite some prejudice, what they found was freedom - to go anywhere or say anything without fear of persecution.    TOP


Image of A variety of Lao food served on a traditional serving platterFestivals or "Boon"
Image of sand hill at Lao new year. Des Moines Lao community members pay homage by creating and decorating this sand mountain with flags.Major holidays, which commemorate stages of Buddha's life, are important community events. The Wat Lao (Lao Buddhist Temple) is packed during worship and the social events that follow. To ensure a good rainy season build merit for the new year, which occurs in mid-April, Lao community members splash perfumed water and decorate a sand hill with flags to commemorate the mountain of Phoukao Kailat. In order to earn merit for the life hereafter, people bring traditional foods as offerings for the monks.    TOP

Blessing Ceremony
Image of Lao baci with flower bowl"Baci" or "Sukhun" is a blessing ceremony held on many occasions. People celebrate and wish each other good luck by tying cotton threads around each other's wrists. Before the "Baci," women decorate a flower bowl with delicacies such as cookies, candies, chicken, eggs, sticky rice, fruits, wine, and water. They then place a candle atop the arrangement and string white cotton threads among the flowers. A "Mor Pone" or soul caller chants the formula to call lost souls back home to the body. As soon as he is finished with the chanting, someone in the ceremony ties the threads from the tray to his wrist. In return, the Mor Pone Image of a Lao Blessing Ceremony - One person ties a thread on the wrist of another to ensure good luck and good healthties threads on the wrists of others. Those present continue this reciprocal tying of threads to wish each other good health, happiness, and power. During the "Baci," women decorate a flower bowl with delicacies: cookies, candies, chicken, eggs, sticky rice, fruits, wine, water, a candle, and white cotton threads. They string the threads among the flowers and then place a candle atop the arrangement.    TOP

Image of Lao Natasinh musiciansMusic and Dance
Music in Laos accompanies sung poetry, dance, and religious rituals as Buddhist functions and for social events. Like Lao folk and classical dance, Lao music reflects the influence of Asian Indian, Chinese, Khmer, Thai, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. The instruments that accompany dance are plucked, bowed, beaten, or blown and include the lanath (curved wooden zylophone), lanath oum (bass xylophone), khongvong (gong circle), khouy (flute), gong (drum), khene (bamboo mouth organ), phin (mandolin), xor-doung andxor-ou (small and large two-stringed violins), and ching (small handcymbals).

Image of Lao monkey dancer, Doungta KhanthavongsaImage of Young Natasinh dancersIn Laos and all over Southeast Asia, classical dance drama, which depicts events in the life of Buddah, is performed for court and ritual occasions. The Monkey dancer, the trickster character in the stories, is a particular favorite. Today in Iowa, Lao dance and music accompany all social and ceremonial events.    TOP

Wat Lao Buddhavas
Image of Buddhist monks as they process at the Wat Lao in Des MoinesIn 1981, the Lao community in Des Moines established the Wat Lao Buddhavas to serve Buddhists throughout Iowa and neighboring states. Since its founding, the Wat has grown from a small house to a complex of buildings that includes a small temple, a community hall, and a house for the monks.    TOP


Text by Khampheng Manirath and Riki Saltzman. Photos by Riki Saltzman, Rick March, Karen Heege. Music by Inpanh Thavonekham.

  the country boon blessing ceremony music and dance
  Wat Lao Buddhavas      
  lesson plans resources traditional artists  
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