It is not easy to photograph a Laotian funeral service especially if you don’t understand the custom. The gathering at the family’s home could be as long as 1 week or longer, and in Portou Ny’s case I was able to attend the last day of the gathering only since I had to work and he lived 1 hour from us. The day of the funeral was long, it was an all day event. We gathered at the house for the morning service, the icy road condition made traveling difficult for all of us. It was treacherous and we saw several vehicles stranded along the highway.
Portou Ny’s two sons and 3 young relatives became novice monks to honor and lead him to his afterlife. Bo asked me to photograph the image below from this angle, obvious that they were sitting from the oldest to youngest just by showing their fashion statement of their boxer shorts and underpants.
It’s a custom for us to wear black or dark color clothing to a funeral service. The young men below were taking vows to become novice monks.
The senior monk was helping the new novice monk dressed.
The ceremony of pledging their vows to become novice monks, there were many rules that they had to follow.
Portou Ny must be very proud that both his sons became novice monks, and it was their final duty to their father as sons.
His daughters and grandchildren became white nuns.
The service at home included offering meal to the monks and making merit to the deceased by communicating via the pouring water ceremony.
Unlike the American funeral service we do photograph and video the event, and I informed the lady at the funeral service first of what I was doing. I took many photos, but will not be posting any graphic photo of the deceased since it’s not appropriate for this blog post.
Portou Ny’s received many flowers at his service.
We sent this spray below, and it was difficult finding a florist that would deliver since the weather condition was so bad on Friday and Saturday. I found one that would and they did an excellent job.
Pouring water merit making ceremony.
Saying our final farewell by putting dork Janh, the funeral flowers in the casket.
The monks, novice monks and white nuns led the casket to the crematory place.
I wrote this part before in my previous funeral post, in a traditional Laotian funeral service, there’s very specific detail as to how a body is being marched to the cemetery, or the crematory site. For some, you might remember or have heard this preach at a funeral service that ‘4 Kone Homh (4 people carry), 3 Kone Haih (3 people parade), 1 Kone Nung Krah (one person sitting on the mantle), and 2 Kone Nom Thung (2 people lead the way). Of course, you don’t see this in most Laotian ‘traditional’ funeral services, but what we’ve common seen were the monks leading (seems the more, the better), followed by novice monks (same deal here, the more, the merry), white mai chee (white nuns), the casket, then followed by people (large crowd shows that a person was well respected by the Lao community.)
Of course the above numbers of 4, 3, 2, and 1 have meanings. This was explained by Ajarn Somsak at my mom’s funeral service. The term 4 Kone Homh, why 4 people have to carry the casket, simple reason, the 4 elements that made up a person, which are earth, water, wind, and fire. Why 3 Kone Haih, parade of 3 people behind the casket, symbolizes the basic reality of life, no matter who you are, rich or poor, we can’t escape the reality of ‘impermanent, suffering, non-self.’ 1 Kone Nung Krah, would appear to be the body in the casket, but it’s actually the spirit, each only has 1, which immediately leaves our bodies after we die. Lastly, why 2 Kone Nom Thung, the casket should only be lead by 2 people, which represents Borb (sin) and Boun (karma, or good deed), where you go from here is led by your Borb and Boun.
Portou Ny’s casket was cremated with his body, it’s believed that it’s his house in his afterlife.
We stood outside afterward, one of his sons was holding his photo.
If this was back home, the crematory would be at the Buddhist temple or out in the open at the cemetery. Some would toss an egg into the air, and where it landed and break would be a place that they would build the fire to cremate the body. Many funeral homes in the US have a crematory place and this building has a huge pipe that we could see the smoke. Some would look to see which direction it’s heading, whether he is making his way back home.
We washed our hands before leaving the funeral home. This is a modern version of when back in the olden days people would take a bath/shower once they get home from a funeral service. The purpose was to clean oneself since you might have touched the deceased and the body houses germs and diseases.
We returned back home for another service, this time the novice monks returned their ropes and became commoners. At the end of the service the senior monks gave us blessing water.
I was glad that the photos came out good, and gave digital copies to the family. If you read up to this part, thank you for taking interest in our tradition.