Processions, Parades and Merrymaking at Lao Weddings
Weddings in Laos are fun, festive and big—sometimes involving hundreds of guests. In general, weddings in the countryside are more traditional than in the city where western influences have replaced age-old practices. Traditionally, sixteen-year old brides are not unusual. Lao people defend this tradition as fitting with their culture and way of life. Their life expectancy is about twenty years lower than in western countries and young people grow up a lot faster.
In ethnic Lao weddings, an elder monk helps the family with the wedding preparations, like choosing an auspicious date according to the lunar calendar. The preparation starts with the negotiation of the bride price to be paid to the bride’s family to return their cost of raising her. Modern parents may forgo this payment saying “as long as my daughter is happy.”
The day before the wedding, the bride’s family holds a small, informal ceremony called oun dong. Only close friends and relatives are invited to help with the preparations. As in any Lao tradition, there are food and drinks involved. On this day, the pha khoun, a beautiful centerpiece lovingly fashioned with marigolds and banana leaves, is made for the wedding decorations and the new couple’s bedroom is prepared. The mother of the bride or an older female relative who has a good husband and children and has not been divorced prepares the marriage bed.
The wedding day starts when a few members of the groom’s family and friends go to the bride’s house to pay the bride price in gold or silver or anything of value. They offer this politely saying “horses, buffaloes, cows, and a pile of silver and gold to give to you in exchange for our son coming to live with you.”
Then the remainder of the groom’s entourage processes to the bride’s home while playing music, dancing and singing. Everyone is laughing and cheering making this a joyful part of a Lao wedding to join. Upon arrival at the bride’s home where the wedding will take place, the bride’s family playfully asks the groom questions of his intentions and blocks the doorway to their home with strings of gold and silver bells. After the groom shares a drink with the bride’s family, pays a symbolic fee to enter, and allows the younger sister of the bride to wash his feet, he is finally allowed to step across the threshold to join his bride!
The bride and groom, dressed in beautifully hand-woven, traditional silk clothing, start the baci ceremony, a traditional way to honor important occasions and practiced for hundreds of years. The ceremony involves the bride and groom feeding each other an egg and having white cotton strings tied around their wrists to symbolize all the prayers and good wishes being bestowed on them. The baci ceremony ends with the couple asking for forgiveness and thanking the elders of both families. The bride and groom offer them small money gifts wrapped in banana leaves. The remainder of the wedding is then devoted to eating, drinking, dancing and all around partying. It’s a big celebration so if your clients ever have the chance to join a Lao wedding, it will surely be a merry cultural experience.
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