Is there a better way to get to know the Lao spirit of trust, love, and intimate togetherness than being part of a traditional Lao wedding ceremony? We were the lucky ones who got that chance. There was a lot of excitement when we came back home from a long day at school and found nine invitations to a Lao wedding on the table. Two days later, we got another invitation. November is the month in which most Lao weddings are celebrated – the monks calculate the best time.
One invitation was from the daughter of the school’s karate teacher, Mr. Thavixay, and the other one was an invitation from close friends and neighbours of Madame Gerlinde Engel, i.e. the family in whose villa Team I had stayed. Traditionally, wedding invitations are printed on golden paper, which symbolizes the splendor and glamour of the event.
Is there a better reason for shopping than getting ready for such special events? During that week we talked a lot to our teachers about the procedure of a Lao wedding and what elaborate robes we could wear. They suggested we get nice blouses tailored, but there wasn’t enough time to get them made. So on the following weekend we drove to Vientiane to the That Luang Festival and looked at the hundred stalls filled with colourful traditional Lao blouses. After one hour of trying on many blouses we finally found very beautiful ones that matched our sinhs.
Wedding No. 1:
Saturday, the 12th of November, 2016, or: The day of the first wedding. At 7 p.m. we arrived at the wedding of Mr. Thavixay’s daughter, Thaviphone. We were overwhelmed by the decoration and the flower arrangements in front of the restaurant. The outside area was decorated with a lot of plastic flower arrangements. When we walked into the restaurant, we were welcomed by the groom and the bride, who we were honoured to take a photo with.
Inside, we got a table right next to the bridal couple with food served to us by a waiter. This was a very nice treat because most of the 400 guests had to go to the buffet, which was always crowded. Another benefit was that we sat directly in front of the dance floor.
During dinner, we had a good time listening to a Lao singer and watching various Lao dances. We were so impressed by the performances that we almost forgot to eat. After dinner the groom and the bride danced the first dance. Later that evening, we were invited to dance, too.
Our first traditional Lao wedding came to a close at 11.30 p.m. We left the wedding with big smiles on our faces, a lot of new impressions, and feet that hurt from dancing.
Wedding No. 2:
The next morning, we had to get up early to get our make-up done and to get dressed.
This ceremony took place in the bride’s family house in our village, Sikeud, i.e. the villa which had been home to Team I. We picked up Madame Gerlinde Engel and entered through an “arch of flowers“, which is a typical decoration in Laos to welcome people on important occasions. The flowers often have evocative meanings and symbols. They symbolize love, longevity, cheerfulness, and brilliance.
Inside the house, the family and the closest friends sat down in the living-room and waited for the bridal couple to arrive. Being a part of this ceremony was a great honour for us. As part of the Baci ceremony, the groom had to drink a purifying whiskey before entering the house. Once he had entered through the front door, a respectable elderly woman accompanied him to his spot in the living-room by a nice flower tree. Linda told us later that this woman has had a long, successful marriage and is a role model for the community.
The groom sat down in front of the so called “Pha khuan“, which means “spirit enhancing“. It is a handmade marigold pyramid made of banana leaves with food and drinks put around it. Then “the baci“, an old spiritual ceremony of blessing, started. The ceremony can take between thirty minutes and two hours and is performed by a elder from the village who was a Buddhist monk at some point.
He started to talk to the bridal couple (in Lao, of course). We were very happy to have Linda translate for us. She told us that he advised the bride to fulfil her duties as a good wife and the groom to fulfil his role as a good husband. Then he gave one end of the white threads that are connecting the two “Pha khuan“ to the groom and the other to the bride.
Then the master of ceremonies and all loved ones tied white strings called “Phook ken“ around the wrists of the groom and the bride. The white threads are symbols of two spirits joining, they wish good luck and also bless
the couple. This is the beginning of a joyful start into their new lives together. It is believed that if the receivers of the blessing (the bridal couple) want their wishes to come true, they should keep the white strings tied around their wrists for at least three days .
This weekend was just incredible. We were so proud to be a part of such a special occasion and to value the Lao tradition, to experience Lao culture, and to get to know a little bit more about our neighbours’ religion and beliefs.
Text by A. Broghammer & S. Schäfer
Photos by A. Broghammer, S. Schäfer, S. Stöhrer