January 10, 2016
A quiet idyllic island takes on a life of its own with performances of ancient dances, of fire balls and a ceremony of the Sea Gypsies
The old town of Lanta, with its teakwood-lined streets, stilted restaurants that stand on the water’s edge, provides the perfect back drop to one of the Kingdoms quaintest of festivals. The whole area has a deep and authentic, Andaman island charm about it, which is further enhanced during the festival by colourfully lit lanterns adorning its streets. Added to this near perfect location the local people in all their diverse and varied ethnic groups try to do their best to make everyone welcome.
The event is a show case, on how for centuries people from vastly different cultures and at times beliefs, have lived in harmony with each other. It is also the time for the many diverse cultures, found on the pretty much unspoiled island, to show the world their individual authentic food , traditional art and customs, including “Batik” painting and Pa-the, traditional Muslim cloth weaving, plus a multitude of other differences.
There are two separate stages used during the event, the main stage hosts numerous cultural displays including Performances of Rong-Ngen, the traditional music and dance of the ancient Sea Gypsies.
The dance is considered to be an innovation, combining both Western and Eastern forms — Western footsteps with Eastern hand movements. The main musical instruments played include the Asian rammana drum and gong, and Western violin.
The melodies are partly based on European folk songs, mixed with local songs and Muslim lullabies. The lyrics are Malay and learned by memory. (You Tube).
Once a popular folk dance and singing form, today Rong Ngeng is performed only at welcoming ceremonies and other organized events, traditionally female dancers wear a long sleeved embroidered shirt and batik sarong; men wear a shirt and sarong.
Today only women sing and dance. The first song asks for protection from the spirit of the place, while the rest are about life and sea travel. (See our posts on these little understood people Urak Lawoi and the Moken).
The second beach-side stage features nightly live music including jazz and reggae performances, which all adds to the laid back atmosphere of the festivities.
Of course this would not be Thailand if there were not a multitude of stalls and vendors selling a vast array of mouth-water food and drinks that encapsulates the best of the islands cultural mix.
Ancient beliefs and fire balls
The water’s edge becomes a third stage where you can witness an ancient ritual that is the ‘Boat Floating Ceremony’ conducted by the Sea Gypsy (known as the Plajan or Loi Ruea Boat Floating Festival) to protect the festival, promote peace and to cast bad spirits out into the sea. (See more on the ceremony click here).
As darkness falls on the beach, its time for the air to literally come alive, when the fire dancers take centre stage. Spinning, twisting, dipping and twirling flames on the ends of a pair of arm-length chains or a pole they simply captivate onlookers, with their grace and dexterity.
Each night ends with a mini fireworks display at the waters edge, while not on a grand scale it is a fitting end to a day with so much to do and see.
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