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How is Khmu New Year Celebrated?

How is Khmu New Year Celebrated?

In Laos, the different ethnic groups don’t all celebrate the new year at the same time. If Lao New Year is generally celebrated in April, the Khmu community celebrates the new year between December and January. We happily joined the celebrations in Ban Lak Pad a couple of weeks ago! Sum Mai Lur Pi Ham Me (Happy New Year in Khmu)!

Like last year, we celebrated Khmu New Year with the Khmu community in Ban Lak Pad. We enjoyed how familiar it was this time after our first experience last year and we figured we could list for you what to expect at a Khmu New Year celebration. After all, Ban Lak Pad is on the way to Kuang Si waterfall, so if in December this year, you find yourself in Luang Prabang, on your way to Kuang Si waterfall, we can only encourage you to stop in Ban Lak Pad. You will most definitely be welcome to join the celebrations

1. Baci Ceremony

Boun Grur, which in Khmu means Khmu New Year, always starts with a baci, a ceremony to give thanks and blessings. It is a highlight of Khmu New Year celebrations in Laos. It’s a beautiful and vibrant ritual filled with symbolism and blessings, marking the start of a prosperous and healthy new year.

Everything they plant on the farm…

In Ban Lak Pad, in the schoolyard, a hut has been built. Similar to the one you would see on a rice farm. In the hut where the baci is held, they showcase everything they plant on the farm to show what they get from the land and give thanks to the spirits for providing this food.

The Baci ceremony is a deeply communal experience. It fosters unity and strengthens bonds within the Khmu community, bringing families and friends together to celebrate new beginnings and shared traditions.

The act of tying the strings and exchanging blessings creates a powerful sense of interconnectedness and reminds everyone of their role within the larger social fabric.

2. Traditional Songs & Dances

Traditional Khmu songs – called turm in Khmu – accompanied by the khene is the soundtrack to Khmu New Year. Whether in the background while friends and families share a meal or leading all generations to the dance floor for some traditional dances. Did you know that the khene – a handmade bamboo mouth organ – is of Khmu origin?

Go beyond mere entertainment.

The music and songs of Khmu New Year go beyond mere entertainment.They serve as a vital thread connecting the past, present, and future generations. They express gratitude for blessings, preserve cultural identity, and create a sense of shared joy and unity during this important time.

There are different types of songs and themes. For example:

Spirit Invocation: Some songs act as prayers and invocations to ancestral spirits and deities. These often carry a solemn yet celebratory tone, expressing gratitude for blessings and seeking protection for the coming year.

Epic narratives: Khmu culture boasts a rich tradition of oral storytelling. During New Year, elders might sing epic tales of heroes, creation myths, and historical events, passing down knowledge and values to younger generations.

Love songs and playful tunes: Not all songs are serious. Lighthearted melodies sung by young couples or playful tunes accompanying games and dances add a festive atmosphere to the celebrations.

3. Kharp Hai

No Khmu New Year celebration would be complete without a demonstration of a special skill… kharp hai – carrying the Boud Kadong jar – with the strength of their mouth. Yes, you read that right! We would not have believed it ourselves if we had not seen it with our own eyes this year.

We even saw the organizers fill the jar with about 20 liters of water… Contrary to what you may think, this is not a competition, this demonstration is performed by the chosen one… Before it was performed by shamans who were believed to have “magical” powers enabling them to carry the jars with their mouths…

4. On the Menu!

What’s on the menu for Khmu New Year, you ask? Orlam which is a stew, buffalo laap, suppak (a green vegetable), steamed pumpkin and, sweet potato… Basically, everything that can be harvested on the farm! And since we always need a sweet ending for a new beginning, is also included on the menu, Khao Tom, sticky rice sweetened with sugar cane.

Traditionally, the women are the ones who make the Boud Kadong.

And of course, all of this is accompanied by Khmu whisky, Boud Kadong (Lao Hi in Lao). Khmu whisky is an integral part of the New Year celebrations. “If you don’t have the whisky, the spirits won’t accept your offering,” we’re told. The traditional Khmu whisky is made of rice and rice husk. Traditionally, the women are the ones who make the Boud Kadong. Khmu people always have a jar at home as it is served at every baci; for a new home, new baby, wedding, when someone is sick, etc.

Beyond the specific dishes, the true essence of the Khmu New Year feast lies in its emphasis on sharing and community. Families and friends gather to prepare and enjoy these meals, strengthening bonds and celebrating the traditions passed down through generations.

So, if you’re ever lucky enough to experience a Khmu New Year in Laos, be sure to come with an empty stomach and an open heart, ready to savor the delicious food and warm hospitality of the Khmu people!

5. Games

Traditional games are an integral part of Khmu New Year. Some involve dexterity and skills and others chance and fortune. For example:

Pov Pob: This ball-tossing game is similar to dodgeball, with two teams vying to avoid being hit by a small handwoven ball. Played by both young and old, it fosters community spirit and playful competition.

Chae Li: This bamboo stilt walking race tests balance and coordination. Participants strut on tall bamboo poles, navigating a designated course to the cheers of the crowd.

Kaeng Kat: This intricate bamboo stick game resembles pick-up sticks. Players attempt to remove sticks from a pile without disturbing the others, requiring focus and steady hands.

Ngon La: This bamboo ring toss game involves throwing rings woven from bamboo onto pegs mounted on a stand. Accuracy and precision are key to earning points in this fun and challenging game.

Lai Lai Lo: This dice game uses small fruit pits or carved wooden pieces to predict one’s fortune in the coming year. Each combination holds a different meaning, from prosperity to good health.

Kaew Kaek: This traditional game involves spinning colored tops carved from wood or coconut shells. The color combination and duration of spinning determine the player’s fate, adding an element of playful divination to the festivities.

Chae Ngau: This tug-of-war game represents the battle between good and evil. Villagers divide into teams and pull on a rope made from woven bamboo, symbolizing the cleansing of misfortune and ushering in prosperity.

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