Lao Engagement and Wedding

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A wedding in Laos begins with an engagement ceremony, which is held on a day deemed auspicious by an elder in the community called a Houana Satsanaphitee. He sets the day according to the time and day of birth of the bride and groom and the Lao Buddhist calendar. To become engaged the young man takes a khan ha to the bride's house and presents it to her parents. He does this to represent that he and his family are good people, and want to become part of their family.

The length of the festivities surrounding a wedding are determined by the financial means of the families of the bride and groom. In general, Lao weddings last about a day and a half.

A Lao wedding is conducted by a Phone Khuane, an elder in the community who is knowledgeable about both Buddhism and pre-Buddhist traditional Lao rituals. A Phone Khuane may also be a Mo Phone, a lay person with special status in the Buddhist temple who can officiate at well-wishing ceremonies called Baci, interpret the Buddhist calendar, assist in healing and even tell fortunes. The Phone Khuane knows the correct order of events in the wedding ceremony, and recites verses of Buddhist scripture in pali, the language of Buddhism.

On the day set for the wedding by the community elder, the groom and his party parade to the bride's house. The groom leads the group, carrying a pair of flowers and a candle. Someone follows him and holds an umbrella over his head to shield him from the sun. The rest of the party carries gifts for the brideÕs parents which can include jewelry, clothes and objects for the home. The gifts have been determined earlier, according to negotiations between the families of the bride and groom.

The groom is met at the door of the bride's house by members of her family. They ask him a series of rhetorical questions, such as where did you come from? Who are you? Why have you come here? Have you come to be good to us, or do you mean us harm? The groom must politely answer all questions and show great respect to his prospective in-laws. Having done this, an upstanding family member, someone who has had a long and successful marriage and can thus act as a role model, comes over to him and brings him to his place by the bride and by two phakhuane. Phakhuane are used in sou khuane (well-wishing ceremonies also called baci) for a variety of occasions. In Laos, Phakhuane are made out of fresh banana leaves, cut and folded into a cone shape, and fresh flowers. Here in the U.S., where banana leaves are harder to come by, people substitute heavy-duty green garbage bags or florists foil, and use silk or plastic flowers.

The guests join the bride and groom and their families around two phakhuane which are made or purchased for the wedding, and rest in bowls full of rice. Around them are placed a variety of different kinds of foods as offerings to the khuane (spirits which protect and give life to the body of each person).

The ceremony begins with the Phone Khuane taking up the threads which connect to the phakhuane. He closes his eyes and begins to recite the good wishes for the young couple, and chant verses which instruct them on how to behave. When he finishes everyone shouts, "Please come, spirit come." Then the Phone Khuane ties threads around the wrists of the bride and groom. This act of wrist-tying, called the phuk ken, is repeated by everyone at the ceremony.