From the Blog

July 23, 2016

The Mon Floating Boat Festival

It is in this rural village that the Mon people annually pay respect to their dead ancestors by setting adrift a boat laden with food

 

When: The Last weekend of September.

Where: Mon village of Wang Kha. Sangkhla Buri District.  Kanchanaburi Province. Western Thailand

 

In Thailand’s most (Central) western province of Kanchanaburi (the province is known for the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Death Railway), lies the sleepy Thai-Myanmar border district of Sangkhla Buri.

Best known for The Uttamanusorn Bridge or “Saphan Mon”, it is Thailand’s longest wooden bridge and the second longest bridge of its kind in the world. Measuring over 400 meters, the handmade footbridge looks as if it was constructed in a bygone age.

But in reality it was only built by the local Mon People in the 1980’s, to both span the Song Kalia river to the Mon village of Wang Kha (no not a made up name) and to honour the local Abbot Luang Por Uttama.

Who provided them sanctuary as they fled the fighting in Myanmar and also when they lost their homes, in the old town of Sangkhlaburi, as it disappeared in 1984, consumed by the waters of the Khao Laem Dam. The bridge is officially named the Uttamanusorn Bridge in honour of the abbot.

 

The Mon Floating Boat Festival The Uttamanusorn Bridge or “Saphan Mon”

 

The Nation wrote in 2015

The Mon Floating Boat Festival,  “is known to the Mon as Pohamord, which roughly translates as the Boat of Offerings,” says Arunya Chareonhongsa, a Mon resident of Kanchanburi’s Sangkhla Buri district, as she recounts the origins and purpose of the Mon Floating Boat Festival.

 

The Mon Floating Boat Festival 6

 

The annual event sees Mon communities towing a full-sized, hand-crafted boat laden with food to the river. The food is left to slate the appetites of the departed. Once a private and deeply religious ritual, today the festival brings in much-needed tourist revenue to this quiet back water.

It’s a ritual that dates back to the Mon Hanthawaddy Kingdom (1369-1539) and marks the journey of a high-ranking monk and several Buddhist pilgrims across the Bay of Bengal to fetch a set of Buddhist scriptures in Sri Lanka. On their return trip, one boat capsized in rough seas and the pilgrims inside it drowned. The Floating Boat Festival not only commemorates departed Mon pilgrims but also banishes evil and brings luck to those still living.

 

The Mon Floating Boat Festival 5

 

Every year since, the Mon have built a large boat and piled it high with offerings before sending it out to sail on the river to feed those departed pilgrims.

For the Mon who live outside the district, the festival is a home-coming and a chance to mix with friends and relatives in one of the largest and most rustic Mon communities in Thailand.

On the first day locals and visitors surround the Chedi Phutthakhaya at Wat Wang Wiwekaram to watch as the men shape long bamboo poles into a boat, a process that usually takes a full day.

While the men are building the bamboo boat, the women busy themselves cooking and preparing the offerings, which mostly consist of popcorn, ripe bananas and boiled rice in banana leaves, candles, honey, water and sticks of sugarcane.

 

The Mon Floating Boat Festival 2

 

When the boat is ready and decorated with colourful paper flags, it is moved to the front of the huge pagoda where it serves as the centre piece for the celebrations that follow on the next two nights.

The highlight is the series of cultural shows that showcase the distinctive ways of the Mon. Whether old or young, they dress in beautiful traditional attire – red sarongs and white shirts – and move towards the boat holding trays. Young men, with mouthfuls of chewy betel nut and winning smiles, try to lure the girls who carrying baskets of food on their heads.

“In the olden days, we also made a lantern and would load it with yellow string and the necessities for entering the monkhood before releasing it into the sky,” Arunya explains. “Whoever got the monk set would be ordained.

“If a woman found it, she would make a great contribution to the Buddhist temple.”

The ceremony culminates in the boat being towed to the riverbank and pushed out to the water where it begins its slow journey to the spiritual world.

 

For more on the Mon people and their take on the Songkran Festival see our post, The Mon People and the Mon Songkran Festival

 

The Mon Floating Boat Festival 4

 

This festival is held in the same month as the purely Karen People’s Event, (who also live in the same district); Khao Ho or Ang Mi Thong Festival (ประเพณีกินข้าวห่อ หรือ อั๊งหมี่ทอง), held annually to appease the demons. As the Karen people believe that the ninth lunar month is an ominous time when ghosts and evil entities hunt and eat “Klar”, the spirit of people.

This festival is also celebrated around the same time as a number of other events in the Kingdom which also are about quenching the thirst of deceased relatives and spirits,  who will walk once more among the living. They are The Festival of the Tenth Lunar Month, which is mainly a southern festival, the biggest held in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Southern Thailand.

The Por Tor Festival or ‘Hungry Ghost Festival’, that is held annually across southern Thailand. The Tiggkrahad ritual is also is similar to the purely Thai event; Festival of Offerings to the Dead (Sart Day) วันสาทรไทย, which is held all over the Kingdom.

There are also a number of uniquely ethnic festivals that also contain the same principles of praying to dead relatives they include the Khmer people in Northeast Thailand and their San Don Ta Festival and the Yong people of Northern Thailand and their Salak Yong Festival

 

 

The Mon Floating Boat Festival

 

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Research from: Britannica.com. Monnews.org. Every Culture. Facts and Detail.com. Nation. Wiki. Myanmar Races Epic World. Joshuaproject Mon language Myanmarburma Seasite Siameseheritage PDF Mon state PDF

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