This weekend, the air was warm and festive as Lao community members gathered at Wat Lao Forest Lake for Boun Phra Vet. The temple revived its annual traditional celebration of the life of Phra Khodom/Vetsandone devoted to Buddha. The festival was filled with the usual Lao food staples from grilled quail to sweet khao lam (sweet sticky rice) and of course, the piercing loud mor lam (Lao folk music) rolled on in its parade with kong ee thum (drumming) as community members finally were able to enjoy what they’ve been looking forward to for so long.
It’s been years since what many in the Lao Minnesotan community had deemed as the ‘Wat Wars’ crisis of the Lao Buddhist temples. Some foreclosed due to money corruption, some shut down due to personal conflicts, and some just couldn’t trust the temples for awhile. The community found itself at divisive crossroads, where many Lao families found themselves not having a place of worship to go to and going out of Minnesota to participate in other Lao communities’ events. Many issues had been in the dark and as word of mouth trailed through the grapevine, new leadership emerged to recharge the trust in its religious community. New ajarns (senior Buddhist monks) set out to build their own small temples and secured land to draw in a welcoming space for the Lao Buddhist community to move forward.
I asked some elders how they felt to be a part of the festivities again. They told me to remember the saying: soy gun, kao jai gun, hak paeng gun dee (help each other, understand each other, and love each other well) and we’ll get along. I agree. And I couldn’t have felt more hopeful at that moment.
While emerging leaders continue their path to revive the Lao community, what other cultural celebrations do you want to see more of in your Lao community?
Check out some teaser photos from today’s boun, with credits to Sunny Chanthanouvong.
To learn more about Boun Phravet and its history, go to the resource website of Northern Illinois University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies: http://www.seasite.niu.edu/lao/lao_folklore/vesantrara_ceremony.htm
-Chanida P. Potter