Salak Yom

10342 |

title.alternative : Salak Yom Ceremony
event date.month : September,October
event date.lunar month :
location :
province / region
subject : ethnic rites,rites of passage,calendrical rites
relations : Tan Kuay Salak
keywords : Tai Yong,ethnic,local tradition, Salak Yom, Yong (ethnic group)
creator : Panita Sarawasee
date.issued : 11 Jan 2016
date.last updated : 5 Sep 2016

Salak Yom Ceremony

                  The Salak Yom ceremony is traditionally practiced by the ethnic Yong people in the province of Lamphun.  Celebrated after the Buddhist Lent, it is similar to the Salak Bhat observed in the central region, as both are acts of merit-making in which the recipients of the merits are not specified. There is, nevertheless, a difference because according to the folk belief this Salak Yom merit-making is to be done by a young woman only, or specifically a 20-year-old single girl. Other than being great merits, the ceremony is also a rite of passage signifying the girl’s readiness to get married and have her own family.

                   The tradition is a clever trick of the Yong people to teach their girl the virtue of not spending money extravagantly. Instead the girl is to hoard money for her very costly Salak Tree, which generally requires 4-5 years of saving. Once she has saved enough, she will start to collect gradually the decorations for this Salak Tree or Tree of Gifts: utensils (e.g. glasses, plates, spoons, water/food bowls), edibles (e.g. fruits, vegetables, unhusked rice, sweetmeats), garments, folk handicrafts (e.g. strings of local cigars, fish traps, tiny woven bamboo utensils), etc. The top of the over 10-meter tree is shaded with an umbrella, the round edge of which is hung or beautifully decorated with valuables such as currency coins and notes, gold chains, rings, silver belts and other gem-studded jewelry. All these are meant as offerings to monks. The preparation work of decorating her own Salak Yom Tree is in reality excellent lessons and training on housekeeping art – how to save money, how to do craftwork (sewing, needlework  and others), in other words the knowledge of a good housewife.

                   Moreover, the making of the Salak Tree requires the help of many people – kins and friends, of both sexes. The men help erect the tree frame, whereas the women do the craftwork for the decorations. This explains why in the past the occasion provided an opportunity for men and women in the village to get acquainted. After the creation of the tree is finished, the tree owner needs to hire a fellow folk who writes their folk poetry to compose a ka-long, which tells about the girl’s biography. The verses narrate about her life since her birth up to the present time. In this oral poetic narration, the writer will also add some moral lessons, meant for the owner and the audience.

                   In the evening well-wishers come to lend their hands in decorating the Salak Yom. Ka-long is then read by 2-3 people with beautiful voice, who can read poetry and chant the ka-long. A good, well-composed ka-long is considered an honor for the Salak Yom owner, because more people will come up to do the reading and chanting. The owner, therefore, is willing to pay a really good ka-long composer, despite the expense. The festive day arrives, the tree is transported to the temple by the owner and her folks. At least 12 people are needed because the tree is very heavy. The merit-making rite is done in much the same way as the Salak Bhat. Lots are cast to help decide which monks or novices will be the recipients of the gift tree. The ka-long is read one more time. The owner presents the tree to the monk or novice, who will then give her the blessings.

                   The last time the Salak Yom tradition was observed by the Yong group in Lamphun was about 50 years ago. The tradition was discontinued until in 2003 when a group of Lamphun monks decided to revive it. Since then, it has been maintained until the present time. But in this modern time this conventional practice and belief naturally have been slightly changed.


Salak Yom: its new social function

                   Phra Pathibhan Bhuripanyo, secretary to the abbot of Pratu Pa Temple and a current core leader of the Cultural Conservation Group of Pratu Pa Community, spoke about the revival of the Salak Yom tradition:

                   “The current abbot, Phra Kru Paisandhammanusit, had been at Phrathathariphunchai Temple before. He himself is a native there. Annually the Salak Bhat ceremony had been held at the temple. Around 2003, Phru Kru consulted a few community people as to whether they should have a traditional Salak Yom that year. The idea was approved. As a result, 2 Salak Yom trees, 7 meters each, were created. The event turned out to be a sensation and a big attraction for tourists. So it can be said that it was Phra Kru Paisan who revived the tradition.”

                   The villages of Tambon Pratu Pa, Tambon Rim Ping and Tambon Nong Chang Khuen are in the Mueng District of Lamphun. The 3 village temples take turns to organize the Salak Yom ceremony. The shared responsibility makes it easier and possible to maintain the tradition yearly, also to keep alive the old ethnic practice of helping each others within the neighborhood, and by doing so promoting good relationship and unity among the people.

                   In the past the Salak Yom was created by women. But things have changed as the hosts now are the temples. Faithful believers provide the labor, and the rural government agencies give financial support. They have also initiated a competition of Salak Yom trees. The management of this cultural legacy is furthermore supported by a small native group, “The Pratu Pa Culture and Tradition Conservationist Group.”  The members are the people who know very well their native ways, and the Patu Pa monks. The group emphasizes the community’s local wisdom. They regard the revival of the old tradition as the revival and promotion of their ethnic knowledge and handicraft skill in creating the Salak Yom decorations, as well as their poetic skill in composing the ka-long, or the poetic narration of how the salak tree is created. Additionally, there is the Wat Pratu Pa Cultural Council, which is a government unit responsible for doing research on the community’s roots, and designing proper local curriculum for the schools in the area in order to educate the children about their own culture and traditions.

                   Preparations of the Salak Yom Festival take months. In the temple yard, men of different ages help cutting up bamboo stems to make the Tree structure. Some level the wood pieces and dye them colorfully. Some old folks, men and women, make woven bamboo utensils and northern-style long banners (tung) which are to be the decorations. They try to really make use of their artistic folk skills. In different households, other trees of gifts are being prepared too. They make, for example, the salak chok (good luck trees), which are smaller than the Salak Yom and meant for the Tan Salak Day.

                   Wat Pratu Pa hosted the Salak Yom Festival in 2010. In 2011, the host was Wat Lam Chang, and in 2012 it was Wat Chai Mongkhon’s turn. On Tan Salak Day, the vast grounds of any hosting temple seem a lot smaller because of  the crowd. The dominating sight certainly is that of the tens of colorful salak yom trees, each towering over 10 meters. These trees are presented by the other temples in the village. More are the salak chok trees – crafted painstakingly by the villagers, and a great number of woven bamboo baskets full of offerings for the monks. The beautiful chanting of the ka-long is heard, harmoniously, together with the prayers and blessings from the monks and novices, and mingled with the loud noises calling out for the salak owners. Such is the atmosphere of a really big merit-making event, jointly celebrated by monks from many temples, crowds of local people, food vendors, tourists and those in the mass media.

                   The Tan Salak ceremony in modern time has been subject to some changes and varied interpretations. It has become a public event of merriment as much as the New Year celebration, right from the days they get down to do the preparation work. It is also an important occasion for a family reunion. Those working in other provinces all come home. Friends and acquaintances are invited to join in the feasts and the merit-making ceremonies.

                    At personal level, the modern Tan Salak emphasizes more the aspect of spiritual consolation, due to the belief that the merits earned are for the owners of the offerings as well as for their deceased relatives. Also the things decorating the trees are different items from those in the past.

                   In the opinion of Phra Rajpanyamoli, the Lamphun Patriarch, who played an important role in reviving and promoting the tradition of Salak Yom of Wat Phrathathariphunchai, this tradition adds more “values” to this cultural legacy and ethnic wisdom of the Yong people. It, moreover, can be viewed as a “cultural product” responsive to the strong trend of the tourism industry which has converted this ethnic tradition into an asset of economic value.

                    Now that the Salak Yom has become a significant “cultural capital” and thus attracted the interests of the community members as well as outsiders’, some native groups are beginning to raise questions. As owners of the legacy, they fear that without proper management the business aspect of this age-old tradition may bring about some new communal problems.


Community facts:

                   This quite large Pratu Pa settlement is situated in Tambon Pratu Pa and Tambon Mueang Nga of Lamphun’s Amphoe Mueang, 5 kilometers northwest of the main town and in the Ping river basin. The community has as its spiritual center the Pratu Pa Temple. Ninety-six percent of the residents are descendants of the Yong group who had migrated from Yong (in Myanmar). The rest are the townspeople or those from other regions who came in later. Agriculture is the main livelihood; they grow longan trees and seasonal vegetables. Within the community historical remains can be seen still, such as the ruins of a number of ancient northern-style stupa and those in a deserted temple to the east of the village of Hua Yong (San Ba Hai), which some anthropologists believed to be contemporary with some other deserted ancient temples of the Hariphunchai time found in Lamphun.


พระปฏิภาณ ภูริปัญโญ.(27 สิงหาคม 2552).สัมภาษณ์.พระสงฆ์ วัดประตูป่า อ.เมือง จ.ลำพูน. (in Thai)

ปณิตา  สระวาสี.(2555). "สลากย้อม: ตัวตนคนยองในศตวรรษที่ 21" ใน ภูมิรู้สู้วิฤกต. กรุงเทพฯ: ศูนย์มานุษยวิทยาสิรินธร. (in Thai)

อภินันท์  ธรรมเสนา. “การประกอบสร้างอัตลักษณ์ชาติพันธุ์ของกลุ่มคนยองในจังหวัดลำพูน”. วิทยานิพนธ์สังคมวิทยาและมานุษยวิทยามหาบัณฑิต  คณะสังคมวิทยาและมานุษยวิทยา มหาวิทยาลัยธรรมศาสตร์ พ.ศ. 2553. (in Thai)