User login

Le wedding de Kak...

By: Nik Madski Posted: March-13-2008 in
Nik Madski

It started with the seasonal flight from Phnom Penh to Pakse where we (my wife and I) found out quickly that Lao Airlines has great service but older than dirt airplanes. A quick turn of the propeller later we were going through customs at Pakse International Airport. Of course we did not bring proper photography so my half Lao wife (Junlah) turned up the charm with words in Lao that I could not decipher. A few smiles later along with a trip by one of the guards out in the hall to get an address from Junlah's aunt and like magic our passports were stamped and we were in the bed of a truck driving north to Salavan.

As we pulled up to Junlah's aunt's house the lights were on and people were stirring, mostly for the preparation of the following day but some came to see our arrival and greet us. It's not everyday in this neck of the woods a white face appears to celebrate marriage. Junlah conversed, attempted to translate for me, we had a few beers, I showed off some pictures of family in the states, we gave gifts bought in Cambodia and then politely went off into the one private room in the house to get some rest.

Clunk, crack, clunk, crack, clunk clunk......... I took a look at my watch as I pressed the light button illuminating the neon green clock face. 3:06 am, what could possible be going on this early was the first thought that ran trough my head. Non-stop clunking and cracking occasionally mixing with a laugh kept me awake so naturally I decided to just get up, besides I had to use the bathroom. I walk out and through another doorway that takes me to the back end of the house where I stumble into the slaughterhouse or as most people call it the kitchen. Through the dimly lit blinking florescent light I walk around several men, trying not to step in the pools of red or accidentally lose a toe in the chop. I step up into the bathroom, handle bizness, and upon opening the bathroom door into the kitchen am greeted with a glass of ice with beer in it. I held back a yawn and politely said "coup jai" (thank you). I soon realized that my confused tired face was stuck there with the guys getting an early start on wedding festivities.

A few large "Beer Lao" bottles later and 3 slaughtered cows brought sunrise. People from all over started to arrive. Women took to the kitchen or helped decorate while most of the men took a seat at one of the tables outside to eat and drink. I quickly discovered my novelty as I was called over to each of the tables to drink with them and share sticky rice with the freshest of unrecognizable meat. Time kept going and decorations were being put together. Several older women began working on the Pah Kwan (which I believe is the proper name). A Pah Kwan kind of looks like a small Christmas tree that has been constructed by hand with the addition of flowers and the all-important strands of string. The Pah Kwan is an essential item in a Baci ceremony, which takes place at any "special event" and consists of many different elements. One of my favourites, is the tying of strings around wrists.

Lets face it, I hardly had time to be distracted with preparations as I quickly got called for yet another warm beer on ice. More and more "family" (a term not exactly coinciding with the definition in western culture) came in plain traditional outfit. The Bride and Groom both got dressed and applied make-up with the help of the Bride's mother. The decorations and preparations were finalized with, of course, the addition of some greenbacks to the Pah Kwan. It was at this moment that I could step away from drinking and focus on the ceremony about to take place.

The elder men separate into a group of two, one representing the Bride the other representing the Groom. Money and alcohol are mostly discussed and/or consumed until the Groom's side hands over a wad of cash to the Bride's parents followed with more drinks.

The groom then must walk several meters down the road with his entourage. As soon as he starts stepping, the Bride's well-wishers start setting up blockades and simulated booby-traps. It wasn't long before an obstacle course was set up and the groom had to turn back and navigate through it. Taking steps over these palm tree traps the Groom encountered trap setters and had to prove his motivation to get to his soon to be wife. In some cases this involved slipping the human blockade an envelope or proving he could handle his liquor by downing a shot. With every test he got closer until he was let into the house where the ceremony would take place.

Once inside he sat next to his Bride who was waiting anxiously by the Pah Kwan. Everyone else sat on the floor mats forming rings around them extending to the outer parts of the house, men on one side women on the other.

The wedding ceremony was now set to begin. The Bride and Groom sat next to each other on pillows surrounded immediately by all the important village elders and older family members. Elders said many things, hands were extended, at one point the Bride and Groom were completely covered in a white sheet seemingly binding them together. There was chanting, gift giving, and then finally came the familiar string tying. It started with the important figures having first dibs, pulling a thicker string from the Pah Kwan the Bride or Groom raised their left hand, palm opened towards their face, while bowing their head and extending their right hand out to have the string tied around their wrist. The person tying says a blessing or wish and in this case folds over a dollar or 20 baht note and hangs it around the string. This goes on and gets extended for everyone to join in, not just tying strings around the Bride and Groom's wrist but around each others. The ceremony is concluded by the Bride and Groom being led, literally by a string of gold, to the Bride's bedroom where a meal has been prepared. As the Bride and Groom share their first meal behind closed doors, the blessing with strings continues for quite some time between guests until more food is served. It is important to note that in Lao the word for eat can also be used for drink. Stomachs are filled then everyone heads off for an outfit change.

This is where everyone puts aside the plain traditional cloth and goes "red carpet" all the way. Everyone including the newlyweds get all dressed up to the T's. Food's put out on tables under tarps, the stage has been set up for the band, and the sun sets, marking the soon-arrival of guests. Just like in Khmer weddings the Bride and Groom's family line up outside and greet people coming in. Most who enter opt for the shot of mystery liquor and then proceed to a table to eat. After an hour or so everyone's arrived except for the very fashionably late. The Bride and Groom go table-to-table providing shots to their guest before the music gets rocking. With every new song, names are called off for family to come up and dance.

Lao dancing consists of an inner circle of men and an outer circle of women. You step side to side, elbows extended, wrists twirling, and fingers straight and stretched remembering of course to completely ignore your dance partner. Between dances an endless flow of beer is provided with the occasional whiskey appearing on select tables.

I had been involved in nearly every step of this process as a "newer" family member and the drinking part had definitely gotten the best of me. So as the party continued into the wee hours of the night I quietly slipped away into the bedroom to catch some ZZ's and hear/feel the bass from a distance.

The above article is a Blog submission and Not an article written by EAS staff.

EAS is now holding a Blog submission competition.
The winner of the best Blog story submitted every month will receive US $100.
Email your best work to naomi [at] expat-advisory [dot] com


Whats on! See our help pages - add your own events

This location does not have any events. Why not add one here!