Nyan Prat Jium Bee (a phonetic spelling of this annual Thai festival) is an annual party the villagers give to appease the spirits of their departed ancestors and also the local spirits of the land, trees, water, etc. that the village sits on and in. It takes place the weekend after Songkran (Thai New Year-celebrated in mid April each year) and is an interesting custom for a farang to participate in and experience. The evening before Nyan Prat Jium Bee the women of the village prepare many foods to offer the spirits, and buy many things they feel the spirits would enjoy - usually booze, soft drinks and cigarettes. There is a small hut set up year round, a spirit house it is called, which can come in many various sizes. This spirit house (that can be seen in the picture below) is where the resident village spirits reside all year long. Each year this hut is cleaned out of the previous years offerings and readied for the coming festival. Certain respected village elders teach the younger women the rules and protocol of running this festival and tell them what to do and what the village needs to do to make the spirits happy, so the rains will fall, the rice will grow, the spirits will chase out bad spirits, etc. etc. Below is a picture of my village's Spirit House, and the lady running the show this year is my mother-in-law's older sister.
The foods and gifts are left in a concrete pit built in front of the Spirit House and also arranged on a table in front. Incense is lit and candles are placed around the table as further offerings. Spirits seem to like the smell of incense, or so I am told. Green leaves are festooned on the columns of the hut, and water is sprinkled/thrown onto the hut during the prayers and invocations to the spirits beseeching the ancestors and land spirits for good luck and fortune in the coming year. Inside the Spirit House stand a heavy ancient rock statuette said to house the land spirits. This stone phalli is a revered object in the village, a fertility totem.
A closer shot of the spirit house and offerings.
Notice the offerings of drinks are opened here so the spirits can easily drink their fill.
During the ceremonies the Thai men are supposed to lean their home made rockets against the hut's roof so they can be seen by all and receive the blessings of the spirits residing therein. This year the men forgot to do this and had already set up their rockets across the street to ready them for firing them into the skies to appease the rain gods. This led to a huge argument and caused my Auntie to become 'possessed' by the village spirits who were extremely unhappy at this turn of events and lack of protocol.
The pig's head and the offerings in the upper right corner of this pic are my own family's offerings in this ritual ceremony.
Here is a picture of my wife's aunt possessed, they said, by the big village pii (spirit/ghost) who was very angry at the men for not placing their rockets to be blessed by the spirits before launching. I was told that she spoke in an ancient dialect not used anymore (which she supposedly has no knowledge of) and the big spirit had possessed her so he could use her body to show his anger and communicate with the people. He was pretty ticked off according to what my wife told me, and auntie is not usually this animated or aggressive. I've actually seen old women possessed before in other ceremonies. Some of them who are barely able to stand upright or walk become so invigorated during their possessions that they can dance for hours and take on the appearance of a much younger person in gait and posture. It is a strange thing to see and experience. And yes, these people do seriously believe in all of this stuff, so I am loathe to scoff and ridicule their beliefs. Besides, who knows. Not me, surely.
Another good shot of Auntie during her possession. All these pics were taken by my daughter on her new (birthday present) digital camera. I was there, but my camera is on the fritz and besides, my daughter needs the experience working her camera, has a good artistic eye for it, and I am lazy at times as well.
After all this ceremony and ritual spirit appeasement is finished it is on to the party and all sit and watch the launchings of the village rockets. Some families put up money for their men to build these home made monster rockets, and some people all chip in to help others pay to make their own or even buy their own from the local elder rocket-maker man. We have an older man here who was a gunsmith and explosives expert for many decades. He susually, if he has the money, builds one himself to fire off to the sky/rain gods himself. He's a very nice and pleasant older gent who I consider a friend.
The old sooty cooking wok.
One thing the villagers do during the party is to take an old broken cooking wok that is coated with soot from many years of cooking and use this to smear the black soot on their hands which they then run about 'blessing' others by smearing this soot onto the faces of friends and family they wish to impart this good luck to. I seem to be a favorite target of this 'blessing'.
Brother-in-law from Pehn gets blessed.
Mama and some dancing minstrels celebrate the day.
Mama gets her dirty good luck blessing too!
Another good luck blessing they like to do here is to grab people, roll them in the mud on the banks of the lake, and then throw the person so lucky into the water. It has something to do with the rains and all that. They haven't gotten me yet, and I don't intend to let them, as that water is foul this time of the year, and the mud worse.
Here is a picture of the bamboo frame they use to fire their home made rockets from.
And a home made rocket flies up into the sky.
It pays to sit well away from these rockets when they are launching. These are home made, although the makers are skilled there have been known to be misfires and explosions. I enjoy this fun from a distance. These rockets can travel very far. This year the aviation centers asked that village heads to tell them when, and what time these rockets would be fired off, and asked them to coordinate in the directions of which way they would be fired. Some small aircraft last year actually had near misses with these rockets. They do go up very high into the clouds at times.
Here's another rocket as it heads for the clouds.
So there you have it: Nyan Prat Jium Bee. You can see now what I experience during this fun and friendly (possessions excluded) annual village pii party. It lasts from early morning until late afternoon and is a lot of fun.
I hope you all enjoyed the article and the pics.