salak yom

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Date published: Friday, 16 March 2012 11:17
Date modified: Friday, 23 March 2012 13:46

Salak Yom

Traditionally practiced among the ethnic Yaung of Lamphun Province, Thailand, the Salak Yom ceremony features the presentation of an elaborately decorated “tree of gifts” to the Buddhist monks and novices of the local monasteries, in order to gain merit and transfer the merit to loved ones who passed away, or to other beings involved in one's cycle of life and rebirth.

The gifts—including foodstuffs, clothing, religious paraphernalia, items for daily use, money, and valuables—are hung on a very tall bamboo structure, which is decorated with colourful handicrafts made of bamboo, paper, banana leaf, and other local materials. The gifts are presented on the day set by the lunar calendar, and can take place any time from September to November.

In the past, young women around the age of twenty would offer a Salak tree to their local monastery. For these young women, the Salak Yom ceremony was not only an opportunity to make merit, but also a rite of passage into adulthood, expressing a woman's social status and marriageability.

This ritual began to fade around fifty years ago, as the costs associated with offering the Salak Yom became too high for most families to bear. In 2003, a group of Buddhist monks in Lamphun, together with the Provincial Administration, decided to revive the Salak Yom. Instead of reviving it at the individual level, however, the organizing committee provided support to monasteries to assemble and offer the Salak trees collectively.

This film reflects the meaning of this ritual to different generations of ethnic Yaung, and explores how revival had transformed this tradition. Since much of the Salak Yom festival is intangible and ephemeral, SAC’s hope is that such visual documentation can serve as a tool both for promoting awareness about the festival and educating younger generations about their heritage.