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Rocket festival: A fun tradition that really strickes a chord, brings the thunder

The dancing of lamvong on an open air stage, the singing folk songs, the tasting of traditional food, the throwing of mud and the smell of gunpowder in the air and you can guess one of the most amazing festivals in Laos, the rocket festival, is in full swing.
For many years I’ve had the chance to celebrate rocket festivals in a number of villages around Vientiane, however, last week I was fortunate enough to witness the festival in the well-known tourist town Vangvieng and their unique style of celebration.
Commonly, the rocket festival is held during the sixth lunar month which corresponds to May on the international calendar which also happens to correspond with the beginning of the wet season in the country.
For centuries, Lao people have celebrated this festival which is a symbol of bringing unity, friendship and to worship the request of rain from the gods.

A monk helps by cleaning out a rocket before getting it to the launching platform.

The date of the festival varies from village to village as local authorities and some of its elders designate the day based on a number of factors in each location.
In Vangvieng, like other locations, the festival starts early in the morning in the temple of the village where villagers decorate their rocket with flowers, mini-umbrellas, coconut leaves, coloured cloth and paper before loading them on to a truck.
Villagers then dress strangely, usually by cross-dressing, and gather ready for the rocket procession around the village before finally taking their rockets to the launching platform located on the bank of the Xong River.
The procession is commonly welcome to anyone who wants to join including both children and adults. A local wine called Lauw Tho is served while Lao musical instruments are played in a procession that stops by each house in the village where house owners prepare food and drink for the revelers.
After the rockets arrive at the main festival site both Lao and foreign festival goers are surrounded by entertainment and food stalls with tubing and kayaking on the river even closed for the occasion due to public safety concerns.
The rockets are then uncovered from their decoration on the riverbank and a cleaning process is undertaken by skillful rocket makers who finally bring them to the rocket launching platforms.
During the festival there is an organising team which is usually formed by local authorities and village elders of the district who control the event making sure each rocket has been registered before being loaded onto a platform.
The organising team then judges each rocket in a competition around two categories: the rocket which is launched the farthest and the rocket with the nicest decoration. The winner of the first category the rocket must travel the farthest, go the highest, and have the most power going in its desired direction. The winners of nicest decoration category are those who have decorate their rocket with colourful and original ideas though still keeping some traditional form.
According to the organisers, there were more than one hundred Bangfai Meun or 12kg rockets, some 20 Bangfai Saen or 120kg rockets and three colossal Bangfai Lane or 1,200kg rockets which were the highlight of this year’s festival.
However, even in an increasingly modernised era, the festival in Vangvieng still remains and the people here are still trying to preserve every activity occurring during their festival with respect to the traditions.
I was fortunate to attend this beautiful festival while taking all photos for the article on a Huawei P10Plus phone’s camera that also comes with some amazing features.


 

By Phoonsab Thevongsa
(Latest Update May 27, 2017)


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