- I wrote this a while back, but never posted here, and it sort of related to the current topic that I’m posting at the moment. All Photos are from my Laos Trip.
The belief in ghost or spirit has been in our Lao/Thai culture for generations, especially the belief of ghost in the house. The younger generations might think its nonsense, and superstition, but not according to our parents or grandparents, whom believe in ghost spirit in the house, might be because they’re thinking that eventually they’ll become the ghost of the house.
Because of this belief, there’re many things that we could and couldn’t do inside our own home, therefore this belief dictates how we live our lives, sounds a bit silly now, but if you’re Lao or Thai, you might not think it’s silly after all.
There’re basic rules that I’ve to follow, silly right? Me, following rules of superstition, don’t laugh because I might not be the only one, you might find yourself doing this also. I was told that when I sleep, I’m not suppose to lay my arms across my chest or in a hug myself position, not suppose to lay my arm (wrist) across my forehead, not suppose to sleep below the beams of the house, simple explanation given to me, “Pee See Umm.”
Pee Umm, which loosely translated as ghost controlling your body while you’re asleep, but I believe that it’s the same as a paradoxical sleep in which intense dreaming occurs during REM sleep as a result of heightened brain activity, but paralysis occurs simultaneously in the major voluntary muscle groups, which is a mixture of encephalic (brain) states of excitement and muscular immobility. Long explanation for Americans, Lao/Thai just call it Pee Umm, short and simple to the point.
Most younger generations don’t believe in Pee Umm, but they’re still experiencing or dreaming that gave them the sense of Pee Umm. However, if we’re to pay closer attention as to why our parents or grandparents don’t want us to sleep under the above conditions, then we’d see that it has nothing to do with Pee Umm, but a simple reason that we should pay more attention to how we sleep, even while we’re unconscious during our sleep, not just flop your body down and no telling which direction your feet are pointing when you wake up. This is all about mannerism, even while we’re asleep, and as for crossing your arms over your chest, you’re restricting the amount of oxygen intake, therefore not a good position to sleep and should be avoided, to prevent us from doing this, they’d say “Pee See Umm,” and it works every time.
The ceiling beams above your bed are a Feng Shui nightmare, and Lao/Thai call it Pee Umm, but the term nightmare that is being used here, I seriously doubt if it means the same as Pee Umm. I think it means that the beams can be a source of cutting chi and the beams carry a tremendous load, and this pressure is focused into the beams generating chi, which continues downwards, placing direct pressure on you while you sleep.
Of course, this is a Chinese belief but has creeping into the westerner society and belief as well, everyone now a day is talking about Feng Shui. I’m not sure if that were in the back of our parents or grandparents’ mind when they told us not to sleep beneath the beams because if I were them, I’d be thinking about safety issue first, who ever is underneath the beams, assuming if the beams were to come down, whether you’re sitting, standing, or sleeping, you’d be the first to go, but this is thinking from the perspective of housing in Laos/Thailand where the houses are not as sturdy as houses in the US.
The belief of ghost in the house doesn’t stop just at our sleeping positions, but dictates our other habits and daily routines as well.
So this belief also dictates our waking up in the morning, and it has to be early in the morning for it to be Sirimoungkhoun (lucky, karma, or prosperous.) Back when I was little, we didn’t have an alarm clock, no need to because our body has built in man clock that it became a routine and you’d wake up automatically. Lao people, in Laos, would wake up early in the morning mainly for the belief of wanting Sirimoungkhoun for the day.
As soon as we’d get up, the belief of Sirimoungkhoun would dictate which direction we should be facing, the direction for Sirimoungkhoun in the morning is east, direction of sunrise, and we should be facing east while brushing our teeth. If I’ve to do this now, I’d be in big trouble because it’d mean that I’ve to face myself away from the sink while brushing my teeth, the builder obviously didn’t know that a Laotian would be living in this house. Back in Laos, when I was little, we brushed our teeth out in the open, no sink, therefore facing east wasn’t a problem, and we faced the direction of sunrise.
Basically, we’re constantly placing ourselves in certain direction, east that is, as a constant reminder to us as to where we are at all times, facing east then became a habit, where as we’d always know our direction because it’s part of our daily routine and a simple explanation that was given to us was that it’s Sirimoungkhoun, but in reality, we’re building a compass in our body, this was very important for the survival of the people back in Laos, especially if you were to get lost in the jungle or out at sea.
The belief of ghost in the house also dictates the way we dressed, especially in female clothing where as the buttons should not be in the back. Back in the olden days, clothing with buttons in back was for dead people, which was considered bad luck or Bor Phen (not) Sirimoungkhoun to wear. This is a good thing because it’s a constant reminder to some of us that we’re in a different world from our deceased loved ones that they’re no longer with us, and we should continue to live, but still remembering them. The symbolic of the clothing was a reminder that we’re living in 2 separate worlds, the spiritual world and the chaotic world, and some day, we’ll join our ancestors in the spiritual world.
Blouse with buttons in the back was forbidden back then, come to think about it, it’s not a bad thing because a blouse with buttons in the back would be very difficult buttoning it yourself, and assuming if the buttons came loose then you’d not be able to see it, might create unwanted viewers. Regardless of hearing about blouse with buttons in back is for the dead, but I still see many females still wearing sleeveless blouse with buttons in the back, normally seen worn with Sinh (Lao tubular skirt.) Maybe this old belief is taken a backseat, just as many modern dead Laotians would wear normal clothing and not clothing with buttons in the back anymore.
Back in Laos, our old house in Meung Kao had an outhouse that faced west, not a superstitious of any kind that I’m aware of, but if you’ve heard of any please let me know. I think the outhouse facing west was to face the afternoon sun light, that way it’d help to dry the dampness and help kill the bacterial in the outhouse, especially every time that you open the door to go in and use.
The direction that the house faced in Laos is also very important, the ladder most likely faced east; I’m also not aware of any superstition, but may be it’s also for Sirimoungkhoun, just like its Feng Shui for house to face east. Another reason that I could think of is that the house would be too hot in the afternoon if it were to face west, it’d get a direct hit from the afternoon sun, and we all knew how hot Laos is in the afternoon. It’s also a good idea to plant trees toward west of the house to help shield the house from the afternoon sun.
Washing our hands after a funeral service is an old Lao tradition that has been modified to fit today modern society, this tradition is seen in the US where there would be a bucket of water at the funeral home and in front of the home of the deceased, you have to wash you hands before leaving the funeral home, and also before entering the house.
Have you ever wonder as to why we’ve to wash our hands? Back in the olden days, or might still be practicing in Laos, people actually have to wash themselves before entering their home, before going to bed, the explanation given might be for Sirimoungkhoun, to wash away the bad luck, but I believe there’s more to it. I think mainly because dead people house all kinds of disease in their body, and by chance, you might have touched them, intentionally or not, even by sitting near the open casket or by walking pass when viewing the body, you’re exposed to the germs and the bacteria. Sometimes by helping carried the casket, there might be unwanted things that seep out that you might have touched, think of Laos, the condition of a corpse is totally different from here in the US, so taking a shower before entering the home makes sense.
As far as meal for Lao tradition, it’s according to seniority, of course, if you believe in the ghost of the house, then they would get a portion before anyone. In Laos, for those that believe in this, they’d prepare Par Kao Thip (a small meal for ghost spirit), then our parents always get to eat the hot steamy rice, and with them having as many children as us, the younger ones such as myself would get to eat the left over cold rice, and they said that it’s good for us kids because it’d make us big and strong. I always question this when I was little, but they would say ‘Gin Kao Yen End Yhai’ (eat cold rice then you’ll have big muscle), back then I didn’t care to be ‘End Yhai’ (big muscle) because the soft new rice obviously tastes a lot better.
I’m sure that there are many more things that we do because of the belief of ghost in the house, and every region in Laos have their own belief and practice. If you have some to share, I would love to learn more about our odd tradition, the reasoning behind the belief of ghost in the house.