Updated 12/15/2008: This post was written last year, but I didn’t have enough photo of Lao traditional wedding to make it fully complete. I attended a Lao traditional wedding in Paksan Laos on November 8, 2008, and had an opportunity to take some photos of the wedding. Please note that the groom in this wedding did not wear a Lao Traditional outfit described in this post.
Courting, Love, Marriage. If you’re Laotian what better way to assure a lifetime of love and marriage than a Lao traditional wedding ceremony. It’s considered to be one of the most honorable duties for Lao girls, and most joyful for her parents to see their daughter honoring and respecting them by choosing Lao traditional wedding as a median in transition of starting a family. It might not legally be recognized as a marriage but more so of a tradition. This is to value the Lao ways, respect Lao culture, and respect our elders. The couple can make it official at a city hall prior or after the Lao traditional wedding. Some might also have a Christian ceremony in conjunction with Lao traditional wedding, which is also acceptable and at the same time, legally recognized.
The Lao traditional wedding ceremony has been around for generations and very important for younger generations to pass down, if not like anything else, the Lao tradition will die out. The marriage is taken seriously by the Lao community and all parties involved, and it’s regarded as a lifelong commitment made by the couple. In the eyes of the Buddhist religion, the marriage is recognized and sacred, but the wedding ceremony need not be conducted in the presence of monks and is usually performed at the bride’s home.
We’ve heard of the Buddhist wedding ceremony which made us to believe that the monk would perform the ceremony, but in reality the monk doesn’t perform the Lao wedding ceremony, and if the monks were present at the Lao traditional wedding, they are not directly involved but more so as to Tum Boun Tak Badth (blessing and morning Alms); if they’re invited, Ni Mon, which we’ve often seen at a Lao traditional wedding, there always should be an odd number such as 3, 5, 7 and the maximum could be 9 monks for good luck.
The Lao traditional marriage involves a tradition called Sinsord, which is a custom of paying a dowry to compensate a family of the bride for her mother’s milk or Nam Nomb. There’s no set amount, the sum is typically determined by the bride’s family, which they might ask for the amount that is determined by the status of the bride’s family, that can vary from money, gold, live stocks, land, etc. Nowadays, only some families hand the dowry back to the couple as a wedding gift, some families in the US don’t require a dowry, and some families keep the money.
There’s much excitement in the air on the day of the wedding, if back in Laos, the groom, accompanied by friends and family would Haih Khun Maak, a parade from his house to the bride’s home, in a very festive manner with singing and dancing along the way. It’s not as convenient to do so in the US, but to mimic back home, often times, the grooms side would gather near the bride’s home and Haih Khun Maak, this then starts the noble event of the Lao traditional wedding.
Eagerly awaiting on the brides side, they could see Haih Khun Maak, leading the group is the groom who is dressed in his Lao traditional outfit, he has on a white or crème silk top with blue and white checkered pattern ceremonial sash, and a silky sheet which is folded into traditional pant style. He carries a bouquet of flowers and lit candle, and someone would help to carry an umbrella over his head, oftentimes it’s his best friend or the best man. The respectable elders or parents would carry Khun Maak with dowry inside, and the rest of the party would carry gifts for the bride. Everyone seems so happy, so much joy in the air that you can hear the Haih Khun Maak song and see the people dancing as they’re approaching.
As Haih Khun Maak is approaching, there’s a lot of nervousness and excitement for the bride, she has to stay in her room until being called out to join the ceremony. There’s no denying that she is the luckiest and the most beautiful girl at the moment. Her costume is made of beautiful colors and sophisticated patterns, silk top, ceremonial sash, and sinh (a traditional skirt/tubular skirt). Her hair is tied up into a bun and decorated with traditional style jewelry. At that moment, the wait seems like an eternity.
When Haih Khun Maak approach the front door, there would be a gate by the front door, the gate is made out of a Lao traditional style belt with vintage Lao graphic designs made out of silver, gold or nark, held at each end to block the front door, to prevent the groom from entering. In order for the groom to pass this gate, he has to answer several rhetorical questions, as if they’ve never met before, questions such as ‘Who are you? Who are your parents? Why have you come here? Are you here in good terms and will you be nice to us?’ and there might be more just to spice up the events. The groom then politely answers all questions to show respect, and if the bride’s friends and family are happy with his answers, he then has to pay money to enter the gate, similar to tipping the gatekeepers, which often are children or young Lao girls.
Once entering the front door, he is then greeted by a respectable elder that has had a long, successful marriage and a role model for the community to take him to his place at the two Phakhuanes, which are used for a wedding ceremonies called Sou Khuane. The two Phakhuanes are made from fresh banana leaves (can use green decorated color paper to substitute), cut and folded into cone shape, and decorated with fresh flowers, silk flowers, or plastic flowers. The bride, both sitting in front of the two Phakhuanes, then joins him then the wedding ceremony of Sou Khuane begins.
The Lao traditional wedding ceremony begins with Mor Phon, a person that performs the wedding ceremony, he would take the white thread that’s connecting the two Phakhuane, and give one end to the groom and the other to the bride while holding it in the palm of their hands in a Wai position, which is the upside down Y shape.
Mor Phon then closes his eyes and begins the ceremony of Sou Khuane by citing chant verses, very poetic in nature, advising the bride of what is expected in a good wife, and the groom of his role as a good husband. The duration varies, it could be anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour, and at the closing of the ceremony, the crown of families and friends join in and say, “Khuane Aeh Ma Deh”, meaning “please come, spirit come.”
Mor Phon then does the honor of tying the white blessing stings on the couple’s wrists called Phook Ken, after he finishes, then everyone joins in to tie the couple’s wrists and whilst doing so, they would also give blessing to the couple. Some people would roll up money and tie it on the white string, to give as a gift for the couple to start their lives together. The symbolic of sting tying is for good luck and a blessing to the couple, two spirits joining as one is a big transition for both bride and groom, and this closes the Lao wedding ceremony of Sou Khuane, the couple then joyfully start their new lives together.
The Lao traditional wedding ceremony comes to a closing, but not necessarily the fun, festive, and big celebration. Oftentimes, the festive celebration takes place that night where there would be a live band, food, and dancing. The bride and groom are the first to dance on the dance floor, often in the style of Lamvong where the couple would dance in a Lao traditional style to open the dance floor. After their first dance, the couple would then Wai the audience as an invitation to all, and then the dance floor is open to everyone.