November 25, 2017

ຖາມຫຍັງກໍໄດ້ - Wedding Talk

Ask Anything SeriesQuestion:  Is it possible to have a Lao wedding without elements of Buddhism?

Answer:  This was a question I received a while back.  The question came from a Lao woman who was not Buddhist and living in America.  She wanted to respect Lao culture but not have the wedding be Buddhist in any way.

Although Laos is primarily a Buddhist country with blended animist beliefs, there are Lao people who have a variety of beliefs and as such follow a variety of different religions. So although I was surprised by the question, I respected that not every Lao person had these similar beliefs.

Similar, to western weddings, there's the ceremony and then the reception (aka the big party).  However, the ceremonial part is where the religious aspects become more apparent.  This is true in Lao weddings as well.  As it was recently pointed out to me on Facebook, others argue that it is more profane than it is religious.  I would argue that the existence of animist traditions in the Lao wedding and the integration of a tak bat for the Buddhist monks would be elements of religion creeping into what others would otherwise deem to be a profane ceremony.

Keeping that in mind, I thought to myself how to answer this when I wrote my response to her.  I explained to her that in Lao culture the ceremony is officiated by the maw pon who is often a learned elder.  It's witnessed by close friends and family at the baci sukuan ceremony.  

I added that weddings can follow whichever traditions she may choose to follow.

This led to another situation though - did she think the baci sukuan ceremony itself was a Buddhist tradition?  She thought so.  However, only a small part of the ceremony has Buddhism in it, that is byway of the tak bat for the monks.  If this was an issue for her, I replied, she may choose to leave it out completely.

However, I continued by stating, that to respect and show appreciation of her Lao roots that at the very least not to leave out the baci sukuan ceremony.  She seemed to agree.

What came of my advice to her?  I never did find out.  Though, I deeply hope that she kept some of the Lao elements - for cultural heritage sake.

It's interesting to note that for those of us who are Lao, our traditions, beliefs and ceremonies are all very ingrained in us from when we're young.  And many of those elements are heavily influenced by Buddhism and animist beliefs.  We go to temple, we witness and participate in the ceremonies, we see the monks, we give offerings to the temple, etc.  It's a part of our culture and our lives.  And so to many, there's no distinction between Lao culture, Buddhism and animist beliefs.  It's often seen as one in the same.  This is the case because over time traditions merged over centuries.

For others though, who are not Buddhist or animist, I suppose it could be difficult to separate the profnae and the supposed religious elements - as it was for this young woman who was planning to get married.

[Update: November 27, 2017.  Correction:  Clarification of whether the ceremony is religious or profane.  Also that the ceremony is not officiated by a Buddhist monk but by a maw pon.]

This is a part of the new ຖາມຫຍັງກໍໄດ້ Ask Anything Series here on where we're sharing the many questions people have asked us over the years from in-person conversations, email, Facebook, and the blog. 

For those wanting to add to the conversation, your comments below the posts are welcome. Feel free to make contact in Facebook to ask questions.  Most people don't want their names published and that wish will be respected.

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