Boun Khaochi proves a traditional festival worthy of preservation

Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images inviting you to experience
the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, Jewel of the Mekong.

People make their Khaochi.       --Photos Pae and Bounlurth

Boun Khaochi or Khaochi festival has echoed the lifestyle of the Lao people since ancient times and it is a fine tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation as it deserves to be preserved.
Boun Khaochi is one of 12 traditions of the Lao people that have been practised for hundreds of years. The traditions are organised in a cycle and each is practised in a particular month, and so there is one tradition a month.
People around the country, especially in the northern parts, enjoy practising Boun Khaochi and celebrate the festival in a very traditional manner. According to the beliefs of Buddhists, Boun Khaochi is organised only in the third month of the Lao lunar calendar (which falls between the end of January and the middle of February).
Villages or communities around the country annually organise the event but they may do it on different day as it depends on when people complete their preparations. However, they mostly organise the festival on the eighth or 15th day of the third lunar month, when the moon is waxing.
The celebrations last two days, including the day of preparations and the actual festival. Boun means festival and Khaochi means a lump of roasted, steamed sticky rice on a long stick – so this is literally the festival of roasted rice.
In this modern era, the word Khaochi also means loaf of bread and this sometimes leads to people assuming Khaochi is the Lao traditional bread.
On the day of preparations, villagers unite and head to nearby forests to cut small trees known as Mai pao and Mai kor to make the sticks on which the rice will be roasted. They bring the wood to the village temple and make three rounds around the shrine to celebrate the completion of their first task and to commemorate Buddha and his teaching.
After this procession, they fashion the wood into the sticks and put them in a pile. In some villages will celebrate the creation of the pile of sticks at night by going to the temple, participating in rituals, listening to Dhamma, and engaging in cultural activities.
On the day of the festival, people wake early to steam their soaked sticky rice and to prepare items for making the Khaochi, including eggs and nam-oy (concentrated sugarcane juice).
Then they gather at the temple again and light open fires. The lumps of steamed rice and other ingredients are put on the sticks and roasted over the fires. When they finish, they offer the Khaochi to monks in a ritual manner or at an alms-giving session. The monks bless them and give some of the Khaochi back to the people which they can eat at the temple or at home.
Boun Khaochi is a festival that unites people and promotes solidarity and friendship among villagers. It can unite people to work and make merit together.
Since the festival is usually held just after the harvesting of rice crops, it’s also an activity to celebrate the role played by rice in the people’s lives. People can also dedicate the Khaochi to their dead relatives or friends.
The festival is usually celebrated while Laos is still in the grip of winter and people have a good time sitting around the fires and roasting the Khaochi together.
Roasting Khaochi has been a tradition since ancient times and people also do it whenever they want to eat the roasted sticky rice. Khaochi is also a popular snack and some people in the cities earn a good income by making and selling it.
The Khaochi can have different tastes that depend on the favourite flavours of the person making it. However, the size of the Khaochi sold in the cities is smaller than that made during festivals in the countryside.
Recently, many villages in Xayaboury and Oudomxay provinces organised their annual Boun Khaochi. The biggest event, called Boun Khaochi Yai or festival of big Khaochi, was held in Boten district of Xayaboury province during January 29-31.
The event featured various activities, including the Miss Boun Khaochi contest, a products fair and cultural performances. This year, Boten district organised the event in a bigger way than before and promoted it as a tourist activity to launch Visit Laos Year. The event attracted a large number of people, including foreign visitors, and was attended by high-ranking officials, including the provincial governor, Mr Phongsavanh Sitthavong, and Boten district governor, Mr Bounsen Chanthaphong.

By Visith Teppalath
(Latest Update February 20, 2018)

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