Lao Identity

http://www.laopride.com/

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Culture

Lao people live in a very unique and most beautiful culture in the world that is heavily influenced by Buddhism, and its status as the world's best preserved culture and tradition is more than deserved.

A "Soo Kuan" or sometimes called "Baci" ceremony is one of the most important part of Lao culture. It's a ceremony which may be held to mark any important occasion such as a wedding, birthday, illness, accidents, moving to a new house, the start or conclusion of a major journey (e.g. if someone is going overseas).

Soo Kuan represents a mixture of Buddhism and spirit worship, and the person officiating is usually an old man called the "mor phone". The mor phone intones prayers and benedictions appropriate to the particular occasion. Then after the person being honoured has had some symbolic food placed in his hand, white cotton strings are tied round his or her wrists, to the accompaniment of further benedictions.

After this, all the participants, who have been sitting round the "tree", are allowed to tie more strings around his or her wrists, while expressing their own specific good wishes; and are also permitted to tie strings around each other's wrists, so that the whole affair develops into a free-for-all from which everyone emerges with at least some strings. These strings must never be cut, and should not be removed for three days, some people leave them on for longer.

Lao people are friendly, caring, genuine, polite, generous and very giving. It's no surprise why many people want to experience and be part of Lao culture.

That Luang

That Luang is the largest golden stupa in Laos. It is the most recognised national symbol of Laos, located in capital Vientiane.

That Luang was built as a small structure in the 7th to 8th century A.D. and has been destroyed a number of times. It was reconstructed in 1566 A.D. by King Saya Setthathirath, who ruled Chiang Mai and then of Xieng Thong (changed to Luang Phrabang), before moving out to establish his capital city in Vientiane.

Besides being the holy shrine and spiritual worshipping place, That Luang is a representative masterpiece of popular art and architecture, a historical witness of the glorious ancient period of the Kingdom of Lan Xang.

The celebration of That Luang is performed every year in November as a Buddhist traditional festival. That Luang is 45 metres high and 68 metres wide.

LamVong (Traditional Dance)

Lamvong is a typical Lao folk dance, meaning circle dance or to dance in circle. It is a famous dance and greatly enjoyed during parties, weddings, festivals and other local celebrations.

Lamvong is a very easy dance that doesn't require any special skills and it's great fun so don't be shy. If you spend more time on the sidelines than on the dance floor at Lao parties and celebrations then you're missing out.

To dance the Lamvong, you basically move continuously round in a large circle, moving your arms, legs and bending your fingers to the music, but you should never be touching your dance partner. It is typically performed to mor lam (traditional) or luk thung (country) music. In Lao nightclubs, however, Western forms of dance predominate.

Guests are requested to participate in the Lamvong dance so as to make them enjoy and feel at home when they are in Laos. The dancer will request the guests to dance by inviting them onto the stage or floor and show them how to dance. So come on and join in, it's time to get down and dance the Lamvong.

Sinh (Traditional Dress)

Traditional Lao clothing has always been part of Lao culture and way of life. The sinh is a long traditional skirt for women that is usually made of silk and that features a wide and often elaborately woven section at the foot.

In the old days, Lao women tended to wear more traditional clothing, which was made from silk and other cloths. Over the generations traditional clothing is worn abit less. It is common for Laotians to dress in more western clothes such as jeans and t-shirts. Lao teens these days follow western trends, as well as Japanese and Korean fashion trends.

Lao women in traditional sinh is still seen often on the streets of Laos because it is a compulsory uniform for female students. Many employees, people living in rural areas and old women also wear the sinh on a daily basis, others only on special occasions such as weddings and ceremonies.

Padaek (Fish Sauce)

Padaek (fermented fish sauce) is an original Lao sauce that is made from chunks of fish, mixed with tiny grains of rice bran and salt and preserved in a container for a few months to a year which releases a strong smell when opened. It's similar to a fish gone bad or a smell of a garbage bin left for weeks.

Although padaek looks disgusting, it is an important ingredient used in many traditional Lao foods such as tum maak hoong (papaya salad) and laap (meat or fish salad) to bring out the authentic Lao flavour.

If you have never tried Lao foods with padaek then you should try it and your taste buds will thank you for the experience. Padaek is the national pride of Laos.

Religion

Buddhism is the national religion of Laos. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other faiths can be practiced with total freedom in the country, but Buddhism is the faith of 95 percent of the population. Despite the fact that Buddhism is the faith of majority, all religions is accepted by the people.

The photo above is Ajarn Boukham from Vientiane who is one of the highest ranked and respected Buddhist monks in Laos. Ajarn Boukham was born in southern Laos and he has been a monk since he was a young boy. Due to his faithfulness and dedication towards Buddhism for decades, he will remain a Buddhist monk for the rest of his life.

A monk may leave the monk hood any time he wishes, he is not obliged to remain a monk for life, nor does any stigma attach should he decide to return to secular life. The longer a male person stays as a Buddhist monk, the more he will accrue good karma.

The basis of Buddhist belief is the idea of good and bad karma. Our present and future lives are dictated by past deeds, good deeds leading to better lives and reincarnation and likewise bad deeds will lead to unfortunate rebirths.


Temples

There are many ancient and modern temples found in Laos, many have vanished throughout history and some still remain. The most well known ancient temples is the Wat Phu temple complex (Temple on the mountain) in southern Laos which is a UNESCO world heritage, Wat Pha Keo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) in Vientiane, Wat Simeung (Colour of city Temple) in Vientiane and Wat Xieng Thong (Golden City Temple) in Luang Prabang, just to name a few.

A Buddhist temple in Laos is much more than a place of worship. The vat (or wat) is the centre of village life, sometimes serving as a school, orphanage, homeless, meeting hall, crematorium, playground and ceremonies.

Although ones behaviour must always be correct and polite in a temple, there is no feeling of remoteness or superiority in a Lao vat. It is a repository for all aspects of the life and spirit, as well as the spirituality of the community it serves.

All temples contain at least one, and usually many, Buddha images. They can be made from a wide range of materials, but are commonly brick-based and covered in cement or plaster stucco. Smaller or more sacred statues will be made of moulded bronze, brass or gold.

Mekong River

There are many rivers in Laos, but the biggest and most important river of all is the Mekong River (Nam Mekong or Nam Khong) which means "Mother of Waters".

At 4500 km, the Mekong River is one of the longest rivers in the world. Its source lies in Tibet in southern China from where it flows to the sprawling delta in Vietnam. Its journey through Laos covers about 1,800 km.

All three capital cities in Laos is situated alongside the Mekong River and it has long served as a lifeline of the country because it is the main drinking water source. The Mekong River also supports agriculture, transport, and cultural traditions of a large number of Lao people living along its banks.

Seasonal tides of the Mekong River create varied lifestyles. During low tides, people grow vegetables close to its banks. Fishermen in Laos know well that the levels of their catches are related to the tides. When the tide is high between May and June, there are considerable fish in the river. Their number drops during the low tides between November and April, yet fishing is possible all year long because the Mekong River is very large.

Khaen (Reed Flute)

As tradition goes, Lao people lived in a house on stilts whilst eating sticky rice with fermented fish sauce and playing the Khaen (a traditional Lao musical instrument).

The Khaen is one of the traditional musical instruments to have been born with Lao people, which makes it the symbol of music in Laos. The Khaen originated before the 14th century and it is an instrument of many sounds, it is made of bamboo and has four pairs of bamboo shoots while other kinds have six or eight pairs. Each bamboo shoot will have holes in them to produce sounds.

In the past, the Khaen played an important role in creating activities in villages and solidarity among Lao people. Many young boys played the Khaen to communicate their love to girls.

All parts of Laos played the Khaen, which has made it an instrument that is not only popular throughout the country but also a symbol of its culture. It is often played with traditional Lao songs and dances.

Today, many Lao people are more interested in modern instruments from western countries, which means the number of people playing has decreased. A lack of promotion will mean young Lao boys forget it altogether, and take up the guitar.

Dok Champa (
plumeria is the national flower of Laos)

Dok Champa, also known as plumeria is the national flower of Laos. The waxy flower with a sweet scent can be found in many colors: red, yellow, pink and multiple pastels.

For Lao people, Dok Champa represents sincerity and joy in life. The flower is often used as a decoration in ceremonies or made into a garland to welcoming guests.

The Dok Champa blooms everyday and lasts a long time. The trees are planted throughout the country from northern to southern Laos and in particular, can be seen near Buddhist temple areas such as Wat Phu in Champassak.

The Dok Champa isn't just an ordinary flower, but it is considered sacred and very respected by Lao people. There is also a classic song about the Lao national flower called "Duang Champa" and "Champa Muang Lao" that is one of the all time favourite songs.


Jeow (Chilli Sauce)

In a Lao traditional meal with rice, there must be a hot chilli dipping sauce or paste known as "jeow", usually perfect with barbecue.

There are many types of jeow, but the common ones are jeow padaek and jeow bong that is made from crushing chilli peppers and other ingredients such as garlic, padaek, shrimp paste and it can last for many months.

Most Lao people grew up eating jeow and the food wouldn't taste nice without it. The good thing about jeow is that it can be eaten alone with sticky rice in times of food shortages.

Jeow is not only a unique and delightfully flavoured chilli paste, but it is a traditional Lao dish. 


No copyright infringement intended. Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copryrigt Act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purpose such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

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