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What is the Baci ceremony – Soukhouane ?

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

Wedding, birth, moving-in ... A Baci is celebrated at each main event in the Laotian life. This ceremony is undoubtedly one of the most important for the local population. But where does it come from? What is its meaning? How is it organized? These are few of the questions that we will answer in this article. You will know everything about this ritual which is as solemn as it’s magic. Enjoy the reading !

What does Baci or Baciksoukhouane mean ?

Let’s start with a bit of etymology. The term Baci is derived from its full name: Baciksoukhouane. Ba means "man", Ci "woman", Sou "luck" and Khouane refers to the top of the skull, the most sacred point of the human body in Buddhist culture. Khouane also means soul. By putting these four terms side by side, we designate a ceremony during which we invoke spirits or souls, for both men and women. The word Baci, as such, does not make sense, but it's still easier to say than Bacisoukhouane, right ?

So, when do we celebrate a Baci? Moving in a new house, birth, wedding, new year, return of a loved one, healing of a sick person, etc ... Throughout the year, this rite will accompany the major events of the Laotian daily life. One goal for this ritual: to call back the lost soul and invoke good spirits. That's what we see in the next paragraph.

The Baci ceremony to call back the lost souls and invoke good spirits

32. It is the number of souls (Khouane) that one has. Where does this number come from? We have 10 fingers, so 10 souls. We have 10 toes, so 10 extra souls. Add to that one soul per leg, arm, organ and body member.

So, when do you lose a soul? Well, for example, if you cut your finger or you hurt your skull, it's possible that one of your 32 Khouane escapes from the wound. Pretty bad to live with only 31 souls, right? This is where Baci comes in. During this ceremony, the shaman will make them come back to the wounded person. We will see how after.

The rite therefore aims to bring back the khouane of a person. But not only! The second purpose of this ceremony is to attract benevolent spirits. Thus, for a marriage or a moving in, a baci will be officiated. The idea is to gather good luck so that everything goes well.

How is a Baci organized ?

So, in details, how is the ceremony going? 1st thing to know, the ritual is led by the owner of the house or by an elder solicited especially for the occasion. This master of ceremonies must be a scholar, an old monk or someone very respectful of Buddhist precepts. He is called a Mophone.

He starts by expressing vows according to the circumstances. He uses an harmonious, almost musical tone. He ends each of his wishes with a series of identical words. For example, "Baci, today is to bring luck .... ". This repetition marks a punctuation allowing the guests to all approve simultaneously by pronouncing the sentence "Then come the souls ! ".

All the participants are seated around the flower tray called Phakhouane. They put their hand on this altar. Those who cannot touch it directly put their hand on their neighbor. Thus, all the guests are connected to the Phakhouane.

The emcee then lights the candles and begins his incantations. He invokes benevolent spirits, protective deities, and the souls which have escaped. He then places himself in front of the guest of honor, he sweeps the back of his hand to chase the bad things, then places in his hand some flowers. Finally, he knots white cotton threads around his wrists while reciting vows. Once done, all the participants tie cotton threads to the wrists of the guest of honor.

After 3 days, it is possible to remove the bracelets. But be careful! You can’t cut them with scissors or knife. You must untie it and throw it away, ideally in the Mekong.

Choosing the date: a crucial element for a Baci

When should you organize a Baci? The choice is traditionally of crucial importance. A bad date can cause a misfortune. It should be known that the Buddhist calendar is very influenced by the position of the moon. So, the 3rd day of ascending moon each month is a great one. In case of doubt, it is better to consult a shaman or a monk. He will know how to define the ideal time period for a ceremony with the best of luck.

Nowadays, Laotian people in the cities take a little more freedom in the choice of the day. It is thus possible to prefer a weekend or a day-off to make it easier for family or friends to join.

That's it, now, you know everything about the Baci ceremony. But the best thing is still to attend one. Feel the spirituality, vibrate to the sound of the shaman's voice, and be charmed by this century-old tradition. So do not hesitate, and contact us to organize your trip in Laos. We will make you live this unique experience during your tailor-made trip. We wish you all a nice and safe travel !

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