July 9, 2016
This unique Karen festival is to help return wandering lost souls and to show more of the rich culture of these ancient people
When: held on the full moon day of the ninth lunar month (17th Sept 2016)
Where: Ratchaburi or Rat Buri Western Thailand.
Khao Ho or Ang Mi Thong Festival (ประเพณีกินข้าวห่อ หรือ อั๊งหมี่ทอง), is a spiritual festival of the Karen people living in this western province of the Kingdom. While The Karen of Thailand mostly live in the more remote mountainous areas due west of Chiang Mai in the Mae Hong Son Province, in Ratchaburi 1.1% of the population are members of what is coloqually termed as Hill Tribes, mostly Karen with most living near the border to neighbouring Myanmar
For the local Karen people this annual festival is a time to appease the demons, as they believe that the ninth lunar month is an ominous time when ghosts and evil entities hunt and eat “Klar”, the spirit of people.
The 37 spirits of each Karen
A hugely important Karen Animist belief is that everyone has thirty-seven klar (also known as ‘Khwan’ or spirits) living within them: thirty-six minor klar and one major klar. If one or more minor klar wander away from the body, the person may become sick, Klar are known to be quite fickle and some simple love to roam, which can result in the soul being unable to return to the body, because it gets lost or is caught by evil spirits.
It is also believed that if the major klar wanders away the person may become crazy. In either case to call the Klar back to the body a traditional healer will conduct a ‘Phook Khaen Riak Kwan Ceremony’, where the wandering klar is lured back with incantations, gifts of fruit, cooked rice and betel nut. After the ceremony, a red string is tied around the wrist of an adult, or the neck of a small child, to prevent the klar wandering away again, (it is said that if all thirty-seven klar leave, a person they will die).
Tying White String around the Wrist
The Khao Ho or Ang Mi Thong Festival has its roots in the ceremony known as Baci (Lao: ບາສີ; Thai: บายศรี-bai si) and su kwan (Lao: ສູ່ຂວັນ; Thai: สู่ขวัญ), meaning “calling of the soul”.
‘Baci’ is an important ceremony practiced in Lao culture plus Northern and Isan Thai culture, and is considered a phi ritual (“religion of the Gods”), it is used to celebrate any number of important events and occasions, such as births and marriages, entering the monk-hood, departing or returning home, beginning a new year etc.
The ritual of the baci also involves tying strings around a person’s wrist, (normally white in colour) to preserve good luck, and can be seen almost everywhere in the Kingdom of Thailand.
Food at the event
Another difference in this local Karen festival is in the food that is offered, in this ceremony, people cook “khao ho” which is sticky rice molded and wrapped into a cone shape, which they then steam similar to khanom chan. The Khao Ho, once cooked is dipped in either honey or coconut.
What more to expect
The day is also the chance for guests and visitors to immerse themselves in Karen culture, with numerous performances in folk music and dance. There are also demonstrations in the traditional Karen pastimes; a race with a basket on ones back, an oily pole climbing competition, the game of tossing Saba seeds, plus of course your chance to try more traditional local delicacies such as Kaw Naw and see many local handicrafts.
While this festival is a uniquely Ratchaburi event, it is your chance to witness first hand some of the traditions of these ancient people, who like most of the Hill Tribes of Thailand were persecuted and driven from their home lands to eventually seek sanctuary in the Kingdom of Thailand
For more on the Karen people click here
Not to be confused with the other festivals around the kingdom held to appease the ghosts that will walk once more among the living, they are
The Festival of the Tenth Lunar Month is very similar to the Por Tor Festival or ‘Hungry Ghost Festival’ (or Sart Duan Sib), which is held annually across Thailand but which has its roots in Chinese folk lore, it also is similar to the purely Thai event of Festival of Offerings to the Dead (Sart Thai Day) วันสาทรไทย, which is held all over the Kingdom, around the same time. It also shares some similarities to The Tiggkrahad ritual.
There are also a number of uniquely ethnic festivals that also contain the same principles of praying to dead relatives they include the Mon people who celebrate, The Mon Floating Boat Festival and their neighbours in Kanchanaburi, the Karen people who have their festival of Khao Ho or Ang Mi Thong. Plus the Yong people of Northern Thailand and their Salak Yom Festival, the Khmer descendants of Isan have their San Don Ta Festival, which is also a reminder of the Killing Fields of Cambodia
This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of Thailand or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from asia-backpackers.com, please contact us.