By Annika Holstrom (8 week intern)
This is week six of my time in the village and I have been fortunate to participate in two celebrations. On the 23rd of September, 2019, Bow and Ginnygaw got married. Bow was a mahout, an elephant caretaker, for the KSES elephant Boon Rott. I never got to meet Bow or his soon to be wife, but I was very excited to attend their wedding. The celebration began on Friday the day before the wedding. A group of four of us from KSES piled into the back of a pickup truck and took off for the forty minute drive to Huay Pakoot, the village where the couple is from. The first stop was getting food at the house of the groom’s family. We all gathered in a circle on the floor and were instantly surrounded by traditional food. As a meat eater, there were a lot of dishes to choose from. I was encouraged to try a little of everything, which I happily complied with. Along with the heaps of pork, potatoes, vegetables, fruits, of course rice, our glasses were full with a choice many beverages too. After the meal, we ventured up a steep hill to the home of the bride’s family. On arrival we were greeted by more food and drinks. With full bellies and a setting sun, we headed back down the hill where we met some more people before heading home.
We all got a little sleep before making the trip to Huay Pakoot the next morning. We went back to the groom’s home where we had a large early brunch while waiting for the ceremony to begin. In the early afternoon, the family and village elders took Bow into a room for the chanting of Buddhist prayers. They then lead Bow up the bride’s house where the ceremony was held. The bride washed Bow’s feet before entering the house. They sat with the best man and maid of honor in front of a pink and white backdrop. The elders chanted a few prayers before offering drinks to the wedding party and guests.
After the passing of drinks, the geeju began. A geeju is a blessing of good fortune that is given by tying a piece of white string on the recipients’ wrists. The elders blessed the geeju by gently touching a food offering and then started the process of tying them onto the wedding party. After the elders, the rest of the guests took their turns giving geeju. The process took a while but once all the guests were finished and the weeding party’s wrists were covered in geeju, the ceremony was over and it was time for pictures and more food.
The forty minute ride back to the village gave me time to reflect on the festivities. As a 23 year old from the USA I have been to quite a few weddings in the recent years. I knew a Buddhist wedding would be very different from western weddings but I was surprised by just how different it really was. In my opinion, the ceremony is based more on tradition than religion. The family and wedding party waited for the elders to show them what to do and when to do it. It was a wonderful social event more than a formal ceremony. My favorite memory from that day was witnessing the giant smile constantly spread across Bow’s face. It was a wonderful experience and I feel incredibly grateful to be a part of such a joyous celebration.
A few weeks after the wedding, I got another chance to dress up in the traditional Karen clothing. Buddha day was celebrated on the 10th of October. We headed to the village temple around nine in the morning. The outside of the temple was lined with elaborate gift baskets decorated with money and snacks for the monks. We went into a back room to chop vegetables and arrange servings of rice. We sat under giant tents that were wet up right outside the temple. It did not take long until villagers were telling us to go eat. After a large meal of rice, noodles, spicy pork and vegetables villagers piled into the temple for prayer. People from multiple villages came for the celebration so not everyone got a seat in the temple. I stayed outside and joined the village in closing my hands together in prayer. The chants lasted for about an hour and then people started to trickle out to make their way back home. I loved seeing the variations of formal dress between the different villages and ages. It was a unique experience and I would highly recommend going to a village celebration if ever given the chance.