account of the ceremonies and rites performed when catching the pla buk (ปลาบึก) a species of catfish inhabiting the waters of the river me khong (แม่โขง) the northern and eastern frontier of siam, An พิมพ์
เขียนโดย F. H. Giles.   









        an account of the ceremonies and rites performed when
              catching the pla bük (ปลาบึก) a species of catfish
                    inhabiting the waters of the river me khong

                             (แม่โขง) the northern and eastern

                                                 frontier of siam


                                                      F. H. Giles.

        The rites and observances recorded in this paper must be of great
antiquity.  They   are   purely   animistic   and   lack   all   Brahmin   and
Buddhist   influence. There   is   only  one  place  where  Vishnu  is  re-
ferred  to, and  in  the  Siamese  text   the   word Phya Thorn (พยาธร) is
used   which  may  mean  simply  the  Spirits  having  power  to  move
in the  air. The  people  of  the  present  generation  believe  this  word
to   refer   to   Vishnu. Brahminism   would   seem   to   have  extended
its  influence  to  this  region some  2000 years back, but probably did
not  affect  the  everyday  life  of  the  people. This  lack of  Brahminical
influence leads me to suppose that the ceremonial and observances
used in connection with  the catching  of  the  Pla  Bük must  go  back
several thousand years.

        The belief amongst the people that the Spirits who have to be pro-
pitiated  and  whose  favour  must  be  obtained are Kah (ข่า) and that
Seng is  an  incarnation   of  a  Kah  Spirit i s  further  evidence  of  the
great  antiquity of this festival. The  rites and  observances connected
with the driving  of  elephants and the hunting of the wild ox, accounts
of   which  I  have  published   in   the   JSS, vol.  XXIII,  part  2  and  vol.
XXVII,  part  1 ,  are   redolent   with   Brahminical   and    Buddhist    in-
fluences. The   territory  in  which  elephant  and  wild  ox  are  hunted






92                                            F. H. GILES                                  [VOL. XXVIII


is no great distance from the Golden  Basin, where  the  Pla  Bü k are
caught, in fact all these three acts are performed in the region known
as   the  Korat  plateau  (โคราช)   which  is  bounded  by  the  river  Me

        Attention is drawn to the belief of the people that  the Chief Spirit
of the waters has found his home in the bodies of  the  ancestors  of
Seng (แสง) from the earliest days  to  the  present  time. The  Spirit is
now living as Ta Seng (ตาแสง) a local official of the district  of  Hawm
(ห้อม) ; in fact, Ta Seng is  an  incarnation  of  the  ancient  Kah  Spirit.
It  is  probable  that  the  Kah  people  occupied  this  territory  in early
times, but were dislodged by the irruption  into  the  Valley  of  the Me
Khong of the Lao, which certainly commenced 2000 years ago.Many
Kah tribes still  live  in  the  vicinity  of  the  Me  Khong. They  were  an
important race at one time and were probably  the  ancestors  of  the
present day Khmer (เขมร) and Mon (มอญ).

        At the present time a good deal of freedom and licence is allowed
to the people who gather together  for  the  purpose of  catching  these
fish. The  custom  of  using  abusive  language, which forms a part  of
the   ceremonial, leads  me  to  suppose  that  in  ancient times  much
greater   licence  was  observed, in  fact, the  festival  probably  approx-
imated   somewhat   to   the  ceremonial  of  the  Bacchanalian  orgies.
Amongst some of the people of this  region  great  sexual  freedom  is
allowed  after  the  harvesting  of  the  crop. It  will  be  noticed  that  the
theme of abuse is one relating  entirely  to  sexual  matters.

        The Lake of Tali mentioned by  Dr. Smith  is  situated  in  Western
Yunnan. The ancient capital  of  the  Thai  and  Lao  people, known  as
Nanchao, is  situated  on  the  banks  of  this  lake. The  Thai  and  Lao,
or perhaps I  had  better say  the  Siamese, know  this  lake as Nawng
Se   (หนองแส.)  Dr.  Credner    has    published   in    the  JSS, vol. XXVII,
part 1, an interesting account of  his  exploration  of  this  lake  and  the
ancient capital of Nanchao.



                                                                                                    1st April, 1935.





PT.II]                        THE PLA BüK FISHING CEREMONY                       93


        1. Lying between Vieng Chandr (เวียงจันทร์) on the left bank, and
Amphur Ta Baw (ท่าบ่อ) in the province of Nong  Khai  (หนองคาย)  on
the right bank of the river Me  Khong (แม่โขง), is  found  a  deep  pool
in   which  the  Pla  Bük  (ปลาบึก), a  species  of  Catfish congregrate.
This pool is close to the village of Sæm Pa (แซมผา) on the Siamese
bank, and  in  front  of  the  village of Ang  Ta Seng (อ่างตาแสง) on the
French  bank. This  pool  has  been honoured with the name of  Ang
Tong Nong Chao (อ่างทองหนองเจ้า) which  means the Golden Basin,
the Lord's lake. It  is  surrounded  by  rocky  hills, those  on  the  right
bank called Pan (พานา) and on the left bank  Panang  (พนัง), the  wall.
During the months of July to September navigation is quite  impossi-
ble as the pool  itself  becomes  a  dangerous  whirlpool. The  water
channel   is   on   the   right   side   of   the   river.  In   the  third  month,
February—March, the water in the pool is quiet and  has  a  depth  of
sixty metres.

        Having briefly sketched the topography of the pool, I  propose to
give   a   short   description  of    the  fish  itself. A  note  written by the
renowned   ichthyologist, Dr.  Hugh  McCormick Smith, is appended
to   this   paper. The   Pla   Bük   is   in   appearance  like  the  Pla Te
Po (ปลาเทโพ) with two differences namely, that the Pla  Bük has not
the black spot on the ears and is  devoid  of  teeth. This  fish is  of a
light  grey colour  on  the   back,  and  white  on  the  belly. It   has no
scales ; its heart is very small, being only two inches in size, and  is
situated  near  the throat. The  fish  is easily  killed, a  th  rust  with a
pointed piece of wood on the head causing death.These  fish attain
to  a  length  of  slightly  over  3  metres with a girth of  2 metres. The
male is long and thin,and the female is of stouter  build with a large
abdomen. The  Pla  Bük  are  in  roe, according  to  local tradition  in
the first and second months,January and  February, but I  haveseen
one caught at Chiengsen (เชียงแสน) late in July in roe,and bought its
eggs.The roe is contained in two  bags or cauls; the eggs are  quite
small. Tradition has it that the fish  in  the  Golden  Basin  are those
which lived there permanently  whose numbers are  augmented  by
migration  from  downstream   in  the  sixth  month, May—June, and
that their habitat is in the great Lake in Cambodia.






94                                             F. H. GILES                                  [VOL. XXVIII


          Pla  Bük  are  found in all parts of the river Me Khong  and  I   have
seen them  at   the mouths of   the  Nam  Mul  (น้ำมูล)  near  Suwanwari

(สุวรรณวารี)  in  the  Province of  Ubol (อุบล), and  also  at  Chiengsen, a
considerable distance above Luang Prabang (หลวงพระบาง). They have
also   been  caught  in   the  Nam   Kok  (น้ำก๊ก)  near   Chiengsen.  The
places    known   to  be   the   habitat   of   the  Pla  Bük  are  as  follows,
starting from Kemarat (แขมราฐ) and going up the river.

          (a) These fish  are  abundant  in  the  great pools of the rapids of

Kemarat  (Lipi)  (แขมราฐ). It  is  said   that  some  of  these  pools  have

a depth of   600  metres. The  water  is  so  turbulent that  the  fish  can-

not be caught ;

          (b) They   are  found   and   caught  without  ceremony in the sixth

month    at    Don   Tamngern  (ดอนถ้ำเงิน)  in   the   Amphur   of   Mukda-

han (มุกดาหาร) in the province of Nakon Panom (นครพนม) ;

          (c) Near the village of Nong Kung   (หนองกุ้ง)  which lies  opposite

the   mouth  of   the  river   Namngüm (น้ำงืม) in   the   amphur  of   Phon
Pisai  (โพนพิไศย) province  of   Nakon   Panom  (นครพนม). The  fish   are
caught here  in  the   third   month   without  ceremony, the  catch  being
about three fish ;

          (d) Near   the   rapids  of    Ah   Hong  (แก่งอาฮง) in   the amphur of

Chaiburi  (ไชยบุรี). province   of    Nong   Khai (หนองคาย)). There   is   no

ceremony. The hawl is about three ;

          (e) Near   the  village of   Ban Tad Serm (บ้านตาดเสริม) Amphur  Ta-

baw (ท่าบ่อ), province of Nong Khai, some 12 miles above the  famous

Golden  Basin, is  found  a  small  pool  called  Ang  Noi (อ่างน้อย).  The

water  in  this  pool  is  deep  and the pool is surrounded by rocky   hills

which   project   into   the  main  waterway   of   the   river. The  Pla   Bük

are said to make this pool a home and their numbers are replenished

by  fish going  upstream. About  twenty  seine  boats  are  employed  in

this   fishery.  The  catching   follows   the  great  ceremonial  fishing  in

the Golden Basin, and is carried  out  by  the  people  themselves  with-

out ceremony. The catch is about six ;

          (f) Near   the   village  of  Ban  Nong  (บ้านหนอง)  is  a  lake  called
Nong Chieng  San (หนองเชียงสัน)  in  Siamese  territory  which  is  form-
ed   by   the  waters of  the  Me  Khong  leaving  the  main channel. This







PT. II]                       THE PLA BüK FISHING CEREMONY                       95


lake is about 40 miles below Chieng  Khan (เชียงคาน) and  opposite
the  village  of   Kok  Hai (กกไฮ) in  the province of Vieng Chandr. The
Spirit of this lake must be propitiated with right and proper ceremony
before the people can commence fishing ;

       (g) At the  village  of  Ta Ban  Wang (ท่าบ้านวัง), province  of  Vieng
Chandr (เวียงจันทร์), near  Kok  Pai  (กกไผ่) in  tambol  Hat Kam (ตำบล

หาดคำ), Amphur Chieng Kan (เชียงคาน) ;

       (h) At Don Khai (ดอนไข่) about a mile above Chieng Kan is  found
a pool where the fish are caught in the sixth month  when  ascending
the river, without any ceremony ;

       (i) The  fish  are  caught  in  Luang Prabang (หลวงพระบาง) territory
when  ascending  the  river in  roe,  in  the  sixth  month, in  the  same
manner as at Chieng Sen.

        2. Each year at the season of the falling of the waters, the people

living   in  the  vicinity  of   the  Golden  Basin, the home of the Pla Bük,

join together for the purpose of catching these fish. The observances

rites and ceremonies in connection with this catching,commence on

the  8th  waxing  of  the  3rd  month, and  continue till the 12th waxing.

The netting of these fish is carried out  from  dawn  to  mid-day  every-

day, from  the  12th  to  the  15th  waxing  of  the  moon. When the left

bank  of  the  river  Me  Khong was under the jurisdiction of Siam, the

Chief Spirit of the Waters and  the  Chief  Spirit  of  the  Locality  were

invoked  by  those  in  authority  to  assist  at  this  important  function.

Since  the  left   bank  was  handed  over  to  France  the Lao Chief of

Vieng  Chandr  has presided  over   the  ceremony. The  ceremonies

connected with  the   taking of  these  fish are ancient and have been

performed  from   time   immemorial, and  carried   out  once  a  year.

       3 There are several important Spirit  Chiefs who have the duty of

guarding  over  that  portion  of  the  river  Me  Khong in the vicinity  of

the Golden Basin  in  the  Spirit  Lake, who  must  be  propitiated   by

offerings  of  food  and  drink in order  to obtain their help and  favour,

before  the  catching  of  the  fish  can  take  place. There are four im-

portant   Spirit  shrines, the  Spirit  inhabiting  which, must  be  propi-

tiated. These   shrines   are  situated   in   the    following  districts :—

       The Spirit of Siri Mangala has his shrine at Vieng Chandr.

       The Spirit known as the Golden Swan (ฮงคำ) has his shrine in the

province of Vieng Chandr, at the village  Kau   Leo  Ta   Seng  (เก้าเลี้ยว






96                                          F. H. GILES                                  [VOL. XXVIII


ตาแสง), in  the  tambol   of   Si   Kai   (สีไค). This   village   Kau   Leo  Ta
Seng  is  opposite  Ban  Mor  (บ้านหม้อ) or  Don  Ching  Chu  (ดอนชิงชู้),

tambol  Sri  Chiengmai, in  Am  pur Tabaw  (ท่าบ่อ), on  the  right  bank.

The    Spirit   Chao  Dan  (เจ้าด่าน),  he  of    the  Guard  House, has  his
shrine  in  the  province   of   Vieng Chandr, at   the  village  of   Hin  Siu
(หินสิ้ว), Tambol  Si  Kai  o n  the  left   bank.  This  village  lies  opposite
the  village  of  Kok   Sork   (โคกซอก),  Tambol  Sri  Chiengmai, Amphur
Tabaw (ท่าบ่อ), on the right bank.

       The  Spirit  of  the  Golden  Basin  in  the  Spirit  Lake  has his  altar
or shrine at the pool itself.

       On the morning of the  8th waxing of  the  moon, in  the  3rd  month,
the people who intend to go to  the  Golden  Basin to catch the Pla Bük
must  first  go  to  th e village  of  Hawm  (ห้อม), about  12  miles  below
the  town  of  Vieng  Chandr. This   is  done  because  the  chief  of   the
village,a man named Ta Seng (ตาแสง) is the present day embodiment
or    incarnation   of   the  Chief   Spirit   of   the   Waters.  This   Spirit,  a
Kah (ข่า), has found a carnate home for centuries  past  in  the  bodies
of the ancestors of Seng. He calls  up  all  the  Spirits  from  the   lower
reaches of the river, and when they have  come, the people  prepare  a
feast, at   which   the   Spirits   are   fed. After   this   feast   they  are   all
invited to accompany the  fishing  party  to  the Golden  Basin, in  order
that  they  may  protect  the  fishers  from  all  dangers and give them a
good  catch. The  offerings  consist  of  one  loin cloth  for a male Spirit
and  a  sin  (ซิ่น) or  skirt  for  a  female, five  portions  of  betel  nut  and
leaves prepared for eating, twelve leaf cups of flowers, a pair of   brace-
lets, and   a   pair  of  earplugs  or  rings, one or two  fowls, a   dish   of
sweetmeats. The   party, after   the  feast,  moves up  the  river  to   Ban
Suan  Mon   (บ้านสวนมอน),  the   pleasure  garden  of   Ta  Seng, in   the
tambol  of  Hawm, about  three  miles  below  Vieng  Chandr, opposite
Hua   Sai   (หัวทราย), Amphur  Tabaw   (ท่าบ่อ) on   the  Siamese  bank.
The   boats  form  a  procession  and  move  up  the  river  stopping  at
Tana (ทะนา) and  Pak  Sai (ปากใส) to feed the Spirits  and  then  go  on
to  Ban  Suan  Mon, where  another  feast is prepared for these Spirits.
The party spends the night there.

       On the morning of the 9th  waxing  of  the  month  the  boats  move
up  to  Kok  Kham  (โคกคำ)  and  Chao  Had   Sai  Mul  (เจ้าหาดทรายมูล)






PT. II]                         THE PLA BüK FISHING CEREMONY                        97


opposite  Ban   Pan  Prao  (บ้านพานพร้าว). At  each  of  these  places  the
guardian Spirits are propitiated and  the  procession  then  goes  to  the
town  of  Vieng  Chandr. On  arrival  at  the  landing, the  party  proceeds
to   the   Shrine  of   Siri   Mangala  (ศิริมงคล), the  Spirit  of  Blessed  Hap-
piness,where,after making   respectful  obeisance,and  giving  homage,
offerings   are    presented.  The   party   passes   the   night    here.  The
shrine  is situated  at  the  mouth  of  Huey  Cham  Pa   Sakdi  (ห้วยจำปา

ศักดิ์).  Siri   Mangala   is   a   very   powerful   Spirit   and   he    is   invited
to    enter   the   fleshy   form  of   a   female   medium   known  as  Nang
Thiem (นางเทียม). This medium  is dressed  in  a  red  skirt, a red   coat,
and  a  red  turban, and  makes  offerings  of  candles, incense   tapers,
spirits    and    sweetmeats,  inviting    the   Spirit   to   enter   within   her.
Musicians play on reed pipes the tune of the song Sudsanen(สุดสะแนน)
inviting    the   spirit   to   enter   the  medium.  Nang   Thiem   lights   the
candle and places herself in a  sitting posture  holding  in  her  hand  a
bowl with candles and incense  tapers,  motionless. When  the  candle
becomes   dim, and   the  flame  flickers, it  is  evidence  that  the  Spirit
Siri   Mangala   has   entered   his   fleshly   home.  When  Nang  Thiem
begins   to   tremble,  she  places the  bowl  on  the  ground, rises  and
dances.  In   addition  to  the  medium  there  is  a  second  person, the
familiar  of   the  Spirit  who  looks  after  him  and  supplies  his  wants,
known  as  the  Cham  (จ้ำ). This  person  asks  Siri  Mangala, when  in
possession   of   the   medium,  to  grant   favour   to   the  party,  fishing
in the Golden Basin, and enquires whether  the  catch  will  be  a  good
one   this   year. Nang  Thiem  replies  that  the  catch  will  be  fair,  and
more   abundant   than   last   year, but  that   a   right  and  proper  feast
according  to  ancient  custom  must  be  prepared  fo r the  Spirits. The
questioner  asks  what  are  the  requirements  of  ancient custom. The
medium  replies  that  the  food  prepared  shall  not  be  contaminated
by   any   person   putting   in   bits   of    meat   or   fish, or   by   any  one
smelling   the   food   or   partaking    thereof   before   the   Spirit   Hong
Kam (ฮงคำ) or   Golden   Swan   has   been   fed.  After   this  the  cooks
and  the  givers  of  the  feast  may  eat. The  possessor   of    the  Spirit
then   calls   on   Siri   Mangala   to   leave   the   body   of   the   medium

and invites him to accompany the  fishing  party  to  the  Golden  Basin.
Nang Thiem, the medium  is  paid  sixteen  atts  (a quarter of a tical)  a






98                                          F. H. GILES                                  VOL. XXVIII


flowered loincloth, two green coconuts, one bunch of bananas, nine
couples of candles and incense tapers, for her services.

        4. At day-break on the 10th waxing of the month, the boats leave
Vieng Chandr in procession and go up the river towards the  Golden
Basin. On the way up-stream it is necessary  to  stop  and  propitiate
by making offerings  to  the  Spirit  Yaya  (ยายา), Mother  of  the  Spirit
of  Hat  Mul  (หาดมูล), Tambol  Si  Kai  (สีไค) at  North  Tana, and  also

at   Huey   Vichaya  (ห้วยวิไชย). On   arrival   at  Kao  Leo (เก้าลี้ยว)  the
nine bends, offerings are  made  to  the Spirit  of  the  Golden  Swan.
These offerings, for two  successive  years  take  the  form  of  a  pig,
changed  to a buffalo in  the  third  year, and  this  rotation  continues
without alteration. These animals are slaughtered at one  o'clock  in
the   afternoon.  The  head, the  fore  feet, and  the  tail  together  with
sandalwood flowers, candles, and incense tapers are  placed  on a
salver, which the familiar of this Spirit called the Cham, takes to  the
Shrine and offers to the Spirit Saying :—

          "We thy slaves,people of the country,come together to make offerings to
       thee, Chao Pawm Hua (เจ้าป้อมหัว) chief of all the Spirits, and  respectfully
       invite thee to partake of our feast  prepared  for  thee. The  time  has  now
       arrived for us to enter on the important business of catching the fish in the
       Golden Basin, and we heg thee to grant us thy protection and  thy  favour
       that we may net many fish."

       Later   on, additional  oblations  are  offered  to  the  Spirit  at  this
shrine. These offerings  consist  of  nine  different   kinds  of   food, a
dish of each is placed on a salver.These dishes consist of lab (ลาบ),

raw   meat pickled  with  fish  sauce, toasted  meat  ( เนื้อปิ้ง),  a  curry
(แกง), boiled   tripe  (ต้มเครื่องใน),  fried  tripe,  a  kind  of  broth  (ต้มซั่ว),
toasted  liver (ตับปิ้ง), a  kind  of  prawn  salad (ก้อย),  spirits, a  glass
or bottle. These articles are  known  as  the  nine  offerings  and  are
taken by the Cham, Spirit Possessor, to the Shrine  where   they  are
offered up, being placed on the altar. The Cham says:—

          " We thy slaves, people of the country, coming together, invite  thee  to
       partake of the good things prepared by us. The time has now arrived  for
       us to enter on the important business of catching the fish  in  the  Golden
       Basin,and we beg thee to grant us thy protection and thy favour,that we
       may net many fish."

       During   the  act   of  presentation  of   the  nine  offerings  the  Nang
Thiem (medium) puts on her red dress,lights the candles and incense












PT. II]                         THE PLA BüK FISHING CEREMONY                        99


tapers,and these,with sandalwood flowers,she,holding in her hands,
makes reverential obeisance before the shrine and invites the  spirit
Golden  Swan  to  enter  within  her. The   musicians  play  an  entran-
cing air, the tune of Sudsanen, on reed  pipes. The  medium  sits  im-
mobile with the bowl containing  the  candles  and  incense tapers in
her hands. She soon begins to tremble and then places the bowl on
the ground, rises and dances. The Spirit,has now taken possession
of her. The Cham asks the Spirit,  calling  him  the  Lord  of  All, what
will   be   the   number   of    the  catch. The  Spirit   replies  that  if  the
fishers act in a right and proper way the catch will be numerous,  but
if their behaviour falls below  the proper  standard  the  catch  will  be
small,  that  you  may  not  return  home   empty   handed    with   your
feelings bruised and hurt.The Cham then enquires what  constitutes
a right and proper manner. The reply is : Act in accordance  with   the
best traditions  of  the  ceremony. The  Cham  then  invites the  Spirit
to leave the medium and join  the  fishing  party. The  food  prepared
as oblation to the Spirit is now eaten by  the  throng  and  the  people
pass the night on the spot.

          At dawn on the 11th waxing of the month, the boats leave the
"Nine   Bends" and   proceed   further   up   river, stopping  at   Pak
Mul (ปากมูล) and Huey Hawm (ห้วยห้อม) where offerings are made
to the local Spirits. When the boat procession arrives at this place
in the afternoon, the Cham, taking offerings of pork, duck and fowl
flesh, presents this food to the Spirit of the Guard House (เจ้าด่าน),
whose shrine is at Hin Siu (หินสิ้ว). There is  no  ceremonial  of  in-
viting the Spirit to enter the  medium; the  Cham  merely  pays  his
respects to the Spirit,and informs him that the party is going to the
Golden Basin for the yearly fishing. The Spirit being  in  charge  of
the Guard House cannot desert his duties for he must remain  on
guard. The party camps here for the night, where  gambling  is  in-
dulged in till the break of day. A large number  of  people  from  the
surrounding districts with their boats await the ceremonial procession
at this spot, in order to accompany  the party to  the  Golden  Basin,
which they dare not enter without  the Lord  of  the  Waters (the Lao
Chief  of   Vieng  Chandr)  leading  the  way. At   dawn  of   the 1 2th
waxing of the month, the Lao Chief of Vieng Chandr known  as  the






100                                      F. H. GILES                                 [VOL. XXVIII


Golden  Basin. He  stops  at  Kawn  Sa  Hua (ก้อนสระหัว) and  the Kut
Kawng  Li  (กุดก้องลี)  and   makes   propitiatory  offerings  to  the  resi-
dent spirits.

       From where the boats are moored, a post of Mai Chalao (ไม้เฉลา)
fixed on a sand bank can  be  seen. The  Cham  or  Spirit  Possessor
takes some pork,duck and fowl flesh, and makes an offering of these
things without any ceremonial to  the  Spirit  Guardian  of  the  gate  at
this  post. He  merely  pays  his  respects  and informs the  Spirits  of
the intention to open the Golden Basin  and  catch  the  Pla Buk.  This
Spirit, also on guard, cannot accompany the fishing party.

       5. At 2 o'clock   in   the  afternoon  the  Cham  or  Spirit  Possessor
prepares food, candles, incense  tapers  and sandalwood flowers for
presentation   to  the  shrine  of  the  Spirit  of  the  Golden  Basin. This
shrine,   which   is   situated   in   a   building   called  locally  the  Pam
Sai (ผามไซ), is  approached  with great  ceremonial. A  procession  of
boats   is   formed. These  boats   convey  in   state:  two  swords,  two
water  gourds, two  trays  with betel-nuts  and  leaves, nine  pieces  of
silver  (ฮ้อย), four  pieces of bee's wax (ฮ้อย), two green coconuts,  two
dishes  of  sweetmeats, nine  pairs  of  candles, incense  tapers  and
sandalwood   flowers, one gong and two  flutes, to  this  building. The
Nang Thiem dressed in red as before,beats the gong and plays on a
flute in the procession. When the shrine is reached, the Cham  lights
the candles and incense  tapers  and, making  reverential  obeisance,
places them with the food on the shrine, saying :—

          " Today, thy  humble  slave  craves  permission  to  pay  homage to  thee,

       Lord  of  this  place, Chief  Spirit  of  all. I   beg  thee  to  allow the people to

       net  the  fish, and  that  their efforts be rewarded by a plentiful catch. I, thy

       slave have brought coconuts (ซ่อม) sweet bananas, betelnuts and leaves,
       pork (or buffalo flesh) and spirits as gifts for  thee. If  and  when  fish  are
       caught, I will present two  to  thee, cut   off  their  heads  and  pickle  them,
       giving this food to thee."

       During the ceremony, the musicians play on their instruments and
the Cham continues to speak to the Spirit saying :—

          " I have now brought the people and their rulers to the Golden Basin
       in the Spirit Lake, and now invite  the  Mother  and  the  Father  of  the
       Basin Spirit to proceed to the shrine in the  Pam  Sai. When  fish  have

       been caught, I will  present  thee with  fish, prepared  for  eating  with
       spirituous liquors at the morning meal."






PT. II]                       THE PLA BüK FISHING CEREMONY                      101


       The ceremony of invitation having been performed the Father and
Mother of  the Golden Basin Spirit  are  brought  in  procession  to  the
shrine  accompanied by music. At the  Pam Sai everything  has  been
prepared  to receive these Spirits: mats have been spread,a dais has
been arranged on which is placed one pillow, nine coats,nine pieces
of  silk, nine  skirts (ซื่น), nine  pieces of  white cloth, a  bottle of spirits
with  tumblers. A  lamp is  lit  and  the  place  screened  by curtains. A
vast concourse of people is gathered here to receive  the Spirits, and
eagerly await the arrival of the procession. These  Spirits  are  invited
to take up their residence  in  the  Pam  Sai, the  insignia  appropriate
to their rank is brought in  a  State  barge, landed  and  placed  by  the
side of the shrine where two Chains are on guard duty.

       6. The actual business of catching  the  fish commences  at  five

o'clock in the morning just before  the  break of day, the 13th  waxing

of the month, and  therefore  begins at  the close of  the 12th  waxing

and ceases at mid-day on the 15th. (A day in this  part  of  the   world

commences  and  closes  at  dawn, not from mid-night to mid-night).

No   one  dare  contravene  the convention  laying  down  the  period

during which fish may be caught,for if they did, such a breach would

bring ill fortune in its train.

       7. Each   fisherman  has a  boat  made  from  the trunk of a  tree

having  a   breath  of  1  metre  and  a  length  of 10. Boats  made of

wood having eyes in the grain  of  lucky  portent, such  as  Ta  Song

Taw (ตาส่งถ่อ), "speeding the pole," Ta   Sawt  Nguak  (ตาสอดเหงือก),

"threading the gills," Ta Wat Hua   (ตาวัดหัว), "cutting  off  heads," are

selected. The nets used are very strong and made of  ropes  about

the thickness of a thumb with  meshes  of  50  centimetres  square.

These nets are the short kind, having a width of 6  metres  and  the

length  of  10. The  manipulating  ropes  are  66   metres  long. The

weights are stones, weighing about 6 pounds each. Three  or  four

ropes   made  of  tough  creepers  (เครือแสง) are also provided. The

crew of each boat consists of two men,one for the bow and one for the

stern. However, before these boats can be used they are  subjected to

a ceremony of purification, which includes the cleansing of the hull

by   fire. Homage   is  paid  to  the  Goddess  of  the  boat, the  Lady

Spirit (แม่เจ้านางเรือ)by presenting fresh flowers,and incense tapers

in leaf bowls. These  offerings  are  fixed  to  the bow  of  the  boats

which is honoured by the sign symbolical of the Holy  Trinity  being






102                                        F. H. GILES                                   [VPL. XXVIII


made with  scented  powder. (This sign, เจิม,which  is  a  protective

one consists,of three dots,or in some cases more,so placed as to form
a triangle). Offerings  of  food  must  be  made  to  the  Spirit  of  the
boats, and he who makes these offerings promises that they shall
consist of such articles of food as the  Spirit  delights  in.  They  are
fowls, eggs,fish paste,frogs and sweetmeats.The Spirit of the boat
signifies what she would like to eat by making the rope  which  ties
up the boat vibrate. Some of  the  seine  boats  are  purified  by  the
owner, seizing a live fowl by  the  legs and  using  this  as  a  brush,
striking the boat from stern to bow till the bird is dead.

       The people believe that the seine boats and the seine nets are
endowed with life, in fact are  spirits, are  living  things, and it is  for
this reason that these boats are purified, and the boats,nets,ropes
and stone weights are perfumed with scent.The stone weights are
then attached to the nets which are now ready  for use. An  incanta-
tion   is   used  when  this   is  being   done. This  incantation  is :—

อมนุมานุ, ติดตัง พันธัง กุมาริดสะหุม

Which means :

          " Om, let all things of all kinds  love  us, be  attached  firmly  as  with
       cement, bound tightly to us, attracted  by  that power to cause to love,
       inherent in us, possessed by maidens all."

     The ceremony of purification is performed in the following manner
and these incantations are used :—    

       อม พก ๆ พาย ๆ เฮือกูนี้ชื่อคู่ขั้วลำขาว กกข้ายาว  ผู้สาวนอนตากได้
งามันซ้ายเมื่อตะวันตก กกมันซ้ายเมื่อตะวันออก ดอกมันดอกพระญาไฟ
ใบมันใบพระญาเงือก เปลือกมันเปลือกพระญาธร ขอนมันเปนรูปไม้  สิน
ได้แล้วใส่แหล่ง  ปูนฮูมันใบสามตุ้มสี่ต่อ  พ่อมันนั้นเขาใส่งาเหล็ก  เหน็ก
บ่อนใด  หันใดพอหันฮอดห่วง   ปานฟ้าฮ้องเดือนหก  เสียงหนึ่งนั้นไปตก
เมืองหม่าน   เสียงหนึ่งนั้นไปตกฟากของ  เสียงหนึ่งนั้นไปหยอกสาวหาม
เสียงหนึ่งนั้นไปถามสาวเฒ่า อม สะหะมะภาพ.

          “Om, earth, earth, paddle, paddle. This my boat  is  named  Ku  Khua
       Lam  Khao (คู่ขั้วลำขาว) (white  boat stern  and bow). My boat  is  long.
      A virgin can lie in it as though lying on one's lap.Its stern points back to







PT. II]                      THE PLA BüK FISHING CEREMONY                    103


       the West. Its bow points to  the  East. Its  flowers  have  power  like  unto
       the  Lord  of   Fire. Its leaves have power like unto the Lord  of  Nagas. Its
       bark has power like unto the Lord Vishnu, supporter of the earth. Fell  the
       tree and lay it on the ground to dry. Its  hull  is  wide  like  unto  the  leaves
       of  the  tree "Sam  Turn  Si  Taw  (สามตุ้มสี่ต่อ). The  father  of  the  tree is
       confined   in   a  trap  with  iron  teeth, preventing  exit. When  he  turns or
       moves about and touches  the  noose, a  sound  like  thunder  in  the  sixth
       month is given forth. This sound  travels  to  Burma  and  is  heard  on  the
       banks of the Mekhong.This sound excites to love young men and maidens.
       This sound excites old spinsters. Om, bring happiness to all.

       หนังกูขาดกูแก้กูปัด หูแซวขาดคาฮูกูแก้กูปัด กูอยากปัดให้เต้นพุ่งออก
ปานหลาว     เสียงเฮือยาวออกไปสุดโยชน์     เสียงเฮือกูโพดให้เรือกูมาคืน
อม สะหะมะภาพ.

       This translated into English means :—

            "The leather rowlock is torn. I repair it  and  brush  aside (the  evil  Spi-
       rit). The leather rowlock is  torn  inside  the  ring, I  will  repair  and  brush
       aside  ( the evil Spirit ). I  will  brush  aside  ( the evil Spirit ), causing  it  to
       rush forth like unto spear thrown by hand,the sound reaching the ends of
       space. The  sound  travelling far, will  return  to  whence it  came. Om, let
       harmony reign supreme."

       The incantation recorded below is sometimes used in place of the

       อม ต้นไม้ใหญ่ลำสูง พันลำตายค้อมล้อมกูแก้กูปัด ตายคอบอีเขาฟาด
กูแก้กูปัด   ตายคอบผีใส่หว้านก้านก่ำ  กูแก้กูปัด   ตายคอบหอกเขาจี้กูแก้กู
ปัด     ตายคอบผีใส่ยาก้านก่ำกูแก้กูปัด   ตายคอบผีใส่หว้านซักซ้ำใบลายกู
แก้กูปัด ตายคอบผีใส่ดาบกูแก้กูปัด กูจักหัวผี อม สะหะมะภาพ.

            "Om, word of God. Trees  great  in  girth  and  stature.  Dead, slain  by
       strangling creepers united as one. I restore, I  brush  aside (the evil spirit).
       Dead, by hand of woman striking on the tree. I restore, I brush aside  (the
       evil spirit ). Dead, by  act  of  Spirit  using  black  creeper  roots. I  restore,
       I  brush  aside (the evil Spirit). Dead, by  fear  of  spears  raised  to  strike.
       I   restore, I   brush   aside  (the  evil  Spirit). Dead  by  act of  Spirit  giving
       poison  of  a  deadly  plant. I  restore, I  brush  aside (the evil Spirit). Dead,
       by act of Spirit using roots of plants,black and bruised whose leaves  are






104                                            F. H. GILES                               [VOL. XXVIII


       striped. I restore, I brush aside (the evil Spirit). Dead, by act of Spirit
       cutting with sword. I restore, I brush aside (the evil Spirit). I  slice  in
       bits the Spirit's head. Om, let harmony reign supreme'' (1)
       The incantation used when perfuming the boats, nets, ropes, and

weights is as follows :—

       อม    หัวฮองเฮ้า  หอมเท่าทั่วเมือง   หอมเฮืองทั่วฟ้า   นานานัง ๆ   วาสาวา
โส      เชาโทหยุดเถาะ      สิบทุ่งไฮให้มึงแล่นมาหา      สิบทุ่งนาให้มึงแล่นมาสู
อยูไม่ได้ร้องให้หากู     สิบหัวแล่นมาเข้า     เก้าหัวแล่นมาโฮม      เชิญมาโฮมใน
ทวีปอันนี้ มากินพาเข้า เจ้าเพินเสวย อม สะหะมะภาพ.

          " Om, word  of God. O,  scented  bulb  of  creeper  black,  perfuming  all
       lands  and sky. O, fields and ploughs, the rainy season has passed away.
       The  time has come fo r thee  to  stop  thy  work. Ten  highland  rice  fields
       and  ten lowland fields shall run to  me. By  virtue  of  my  magic  they  can-
       not  remain where they are, but crying, will  run  to  me. Ten  bulbs  of  the
       scented creeper will come and enter on the place  and  another  nine  will
       also come and  join  with  them.  O, please  come, assemble  on  this  land.
       Partake  of  the  feast  prepared. The  Lord  the  Chief  shall  eat  from  the
       greater tray. Om, let harmony reign supreme."

          When this incantation is being pronounced,the Master of Ceremo-
nies shall pick up  the  net  by  holding  the  four  corners  in  his  hands,
that is the two weighted  and  the  two  unweighted  corners, and  when
doing  so  must  suppress  his  breath. When the boats and  nets have


         (1) In vol. xxv, part 2 of the JSS, I published a  paper dealing  with  the

Rites  and  Ceremonies  observed at  Elephant driving operations in the sea-
board  province  of  Lang  Suan, Southern Siam. In  phase  III of this paper, I
described the rites which have to be performed when cutting  timber  to  be
used for the erection of the kraal. The incantations quoted above all refer to
the cutting of timber for  making boats.The Spirits  inhabiting the  trees  must
be  evicted to  prevent  their  doing  any evil  after the boat has been built. It
will be observed that the chief of all the Spirits, the father of the trees must
be confined and for this purpose he is placed in a fishing trap. This simile is
used because the boats are employed in the important business of catching
the Pla Bük. The  leather  row lock  have  been  also  to be purified. The evil

 Spirit living within the same must be brushed aside, for if  they  were  allow-
ed to remain the rowlocks would break and  evil  fall on  the  fishermen. Evil
Spirits  are  responsible  for  killing  the  trees  required for making the boats.
They  must  be  brushed  aside  that   the  trees may come  to life again. The
people  who  engage  in  the  pursuit of fishing in the Golden Basin have the

                         belief that the boats they use are endowed with life,hence these death deal-
                              ing Spirits must be removed.






PT. II]                      THE PLA BüK FISHING CEREMONY                    105


been purified and perfumed,they should not be used for any purpose
whatsoever, until  the  time  fixed  for  catching  the   fish   has  arrived,
when they should be brought out and used forthwith.

       As  some  fish  may  break  away from the Golden Basin and try to
escape, parties of fishermen assemble at Ban Sam Pan Na (บ้านสาม

พันนา)  near  the  Si  No  Hat  (สีโนหัด)  rapids  in  Vieng  Chandr  territo-
ry,  where  a  sand  bank  juts out from the  left  bank of the river. Other
parties  assemble  at  Hard  Mul  (หาดมูล)  opposite Huey Hawm (ห้วย

ห้อม) on  the  left  bank, lying between Ban Kok Sok (บ้านโคกซอก) and
Ban  Ta  Phra  Badh  (ท่าพระบาท) in  the  commune  of Sri Chiengmai
(ศรีเชียงใหม่), Amphur Ta  Baw  (ท่าบ่อ). Ban  Sam  Pan  Na   is  above
and Hat Mul  is  below  the  Golden  Basin. The  fishermen  use  long
nets made by joining seven of the ordinary  nets  together, producing
a net 35 metres  long, and  the  weights  weigh  between  five and six
pounds. The incantations used for  the  short  nets  are  used  for  the
long also.

       8. Before the boats are brought out to commence  the  operations
of catching the fish, some of  the  fishermen  pronounce  this incanta-
tion, but this is not done by all.

       วันนี้วันดีคืนดี      ขอดอกขอดวง    เจ้าน้ำเจ้าท่า    เจ้าป่าเจ้าเมือง    ผีสาง
ทั้งหลาย      ป่าไฟไก่ขัน      ให้มาอยู่มากิน      เส้นวักจักกะแตน      ในวันนี้ผู้ข้า
จูการหมานลาก      ขอหัววางหางมอบ    เจ้าด่าน     เจ้าที่       ให้มีโชคมีชัยใน

          " This   day, this  night   is   good, pregnant  with  good  fortune. We  beg
      thee to give us in abundance, O, Lord of the  waters, Lord  of  the  Landing
      and Lord of the Forests, Lord of  the  city  and  all  Spirits  great  and  small.
      The cocks are crowing in the forest before dawn.Please come to our feast
      prepared  as  an offering  to ye all. To-day, we thy humble slaves pray that
      we may be favoured with good fortune, and in return for thy kindness  will
      give to ye the head and  tail  of  a  fish. O,  Guardians  of  the  frontiers and
      of the countryside, grant us thy favour on this day."
       At  five  o'clock  on  the  morning  of  the  12th  waxing of  the month,
each boat is brought  out  and  paddled  into the  Golden  Basin, going
towards   its   upper   reaches. In  each  boat  are  two  men  each  one
holding the upper corners of the net which is lowered into the water.






106                                          F. H. GILES                               [VOL. XXVIII


                       The boats then float downstream.The Lord of the Waters (Chief
                       of Viengchandr), supplies each boat with a jar of  spirits. While
                       the boats are moving, this incantation is chanted.

                       อม พก ๆ พาย ๆ เหื่อกูหลายกูสีกูแก้กูปัด   ปลายมันชี้ไปทิศตะวันออก

กกมันชี้ไปทิศตวันตก     กูสียกเอาไว้แต่ทางไม้ค่ำคุณ     ตัวมันยืนเปนนาง

เงือกนางงู     กูบ่อให้มันอยู่   กกขามึงขาว   กูจักเสี่ยกโคยหา   ตามึงใหญ่

กูจักผูกอุ้มลุ้มอุ้มขึ้นมา      เขาเฮียกขึ้นมา      พระครูผู้นี้มาจากเมืองหล้าน้ำ

บัดนี้เผิ่นเปาะโห่มันจะจ้าน  มาบัดเพื่อนบ้านให้มันซะซู้ซะชาย   ตัวใดเวียน

กกให้มันตาย  ตัวใดเวียนปลายให้ตามันแตก  ให้มันแตกทางกลาง   ให้มัน

วางทางเคิ่ง อม สะหะมะภาพ.

       ผาเพื่อนพุ้น พาพี่ท่าโทม อม สะหะมะภาพ.

       บัดจะซ้ำขอดอกขอดวง  หาดทรายหลวงของเจ้าน้ำ  บัดสี่ซ้ำอ่างทอง

หนองเจ้า บัดสีเข้าให้เบีดตูถ้ำ บัดสีซ้ำให้ทานของเฮา.

       " Om,  word  of  God. Earth, earth, paddle, paddle. Sweat  from   my
body   flows. I   undo, I   brush  aside (the  evil  Spirit). The  stern  points
towards the East, the bow towards the West. I pay it honour that it  may
fruitful  be. Thou  art  long  lived, like  the  women  of  the  serpent, Naga
race. I  will  not  let  thee  longer  here  remain. O, thy  thigh   is   white.  I
thrust  my  penis  in  to  the  depth  in  search  of thee. Thy eye is large. I
will fold and wrap thee in a net and bring thee to the surface in my arms.

When  thou art  called, please  come  up.This  reverend  teacher  comes

from  the country of Lanam (หล้าน้ำ). He has barred the way to  the  exit

of  the fish and sending forth his voice shouting loud, drives them to the

barriers. The  people of the countryside, on hearing the sound shall lose

all  moral sense and self control.Let those(fish)who pass at  the bow of

the  boat die, let those who turn at the  stern sustain  injury  to  the  eye,

Let   them   come   by   the  right  way  to  the  middle  of  the  boat.  Om,

let harmony reign supreme."

       " O, Cliff, friend  standing o'er  there, come  brother, from Ta Tom.(1)
Om, let harmony reign supreme."


       (1)  This place Ta  Tom  is  situated  in  the  district  of  Sieng  (เซียง)  a
province of the Lao country. I am inclined to think that  this  place Ta Tom
is the important town of Ta Ting or Ta Tung in the province of Kwei-Chow.





PT. II]                          THE PLA BüK FISHING CEREMONY                        107


          " Now we beg that the catch may abundant he, O, Spirit of the Waters
       and  the  great  Sandbank. We  beg  the  same  of  thee, O, Spirit  of  the
       Golden Basin, Lake of the Lord. Please open all  the  cavern doors   that
       the fish may come out. Please give us our reward."
       9. During the process of fishing a great uproar is created  by  all

those present who indulge in abusing each other and shouting  out
challenges to fight. While the owners of  the  boats  beg  the  fish  to
enter their nets saying :—

       ให้ทานเจ้าเฮือนให้ทาน    ภูผาทานอ่างทองหนองเจ้า    ผู้เปนเจ้าอยู่หาด
ทรายหลวง อาดญาหลวงผู้เปนเจ้าน้ำ บัดสีซ้ำขอดอกขอดวง.

          " Give, O, Father  Possessor  of  Plenty, give  O, Cliff-faced  rocks, O,
      Golden Basin, Lake of the  Lord, O, Ye Chief, living  on  the  great  sand
       bank,O,Thou Great One,owner of the Golden Basin,now give us of thy


Many of the tribes who have come South have passed through this province
from Sze-Chuan and Shen-Si, notably the Miao. The country  La  Nam  would
seem to be situated in the bowels of the earth,but not far below  the surface.

In the Lanchang (ล้านช้าง) chronicals, it is stated  that a king bearing  the  title

of Phya Lanam Sen Thai  Puwanard (พระยาล่าน้ำแสน ไทยภูวนารถ) ascended
the   throne.  Lanchang  was   a  name  given  to  both  Luang  Prabang  and
Viengchandr, but as the capital  was   removed  from  the  (former) place  in
the year A.D. 1565  it  is  probable  that  the  Phya  Lanam  referred  to  was
king of Luang Prabang. Lanam  was  known  to  the  people  of  the  country
hence the  use  of  this  name   in  the  incantation. This  incantation  is  used
for the  purpose of coaxing the fish to come  to  the  nets. It  is  usual  to  stir
the water with long bamboo poles,hence the reference to the male organ of
generation. The  reverend  teacher  well  versed  in  magic, curses  the  fish,
that they, being overcome by fear, will approach the nets by  the  right  way.
It will also be noticed that it is necessary to call  on  the  Spirits  to  open  the
cavern doors to let the fish come out. This is  analogous  to  the  opening  of
forests caves and subterranean passages. A good instance of  this require-
ment will be found in my paper The  catching  of  Elephants  in  the  Province
of Langsuan, phase VIIì, published in JSS, vol. xxv, part ii.

The  first  few  lines  of  this incantation  are  not  very clear. The men  appa-
rently are covered with sweat due to their exertions in navigating  the boats
and preparing the nets. That passage which refers to paying honour to  the
boats that they may he fruitful is an ordinary  custom  which   requires  that

flowers etc. should be placed on the bow of the boat. See details  given  in
paragraph 5 of this paper






108                                          F. H. GILES                               [VOL. XXVIII


       This prayer is repeated until the fish are caught in the nets.When
a  fish is netted, the boat goes down  stream. The  two  men  holding
the  net jerk it as a signal calling on the fish to  come  to  the  surface
saying :—

       เจ้าขึ้นมาเจ้าเฮือนขึ้นมา        เอาหางขึ้นก่อน        บัดสีย้อนเครือแสงตักลง
บัดสีปงเครือแสงผูกไว้         บัดสีได้เจ้าเฮือนทาน           บัดสีซ้ำขอดอกขอดวง
หาดทรายหลวงของผู้เปนเจ้า     ผู้เจ้าน้ำแม้นอาดญาหลวง      หาดทรายหลวง

       Which in English means :—

           “Little   one, please  come  up. Thou  of  lucky  omen, please  come  up.
       Present thy tail before thy head. Now I let down the creeper noose. Now,
       thou  art  caught. I  tie  thee  with the creeper  rope  to  the  stake. Now, I
       have a fish. The Possessor of Plenty has  made  me  a  gift. Now, again I
       ask for abundant gifts from thee, O, great Sandbank, Chief of all, Lord  of
       the Water, great in power, from thee, O, Great  Sandbank, owner  of  the
       Golden Basin.”

       This prayer or incantation is repeated until the  fish  floats  to  the
surface in the net. While  all  this  is  taking  place  should  the  fisher-
men's hat fall from his head, or his  clothes  drop  from  his  body, he
should not pick them up, for if he did, the  fish  will  escape  from  the

       When the fish comes to the surface of  the  water, the  boatmen
assist each other in securing it. This  is known as scooping the tail
of the fish (ตักหางปลา). This is  done  by  placing  a  creeper  noose
over the tail, tightening it and then  threading  the rope, through  the
gills, and securing the fish to the side  of   the  boat. The fishermen
begin to dance with joy, and in  their  excitement  shout  out  volleys
of abuse,and when they have calmed down,paddle the boat slowly
toward the river bank, where the fish is tied to a  stake, fixed  in  the
water in front of their hut.

       10. The people of   the right bank live in temporary huts  on  that
bank, and  those of   the. left bank  do  the same on their bank. They
do  not  mix. Should  any  boat having  caught a fish, lose it, owing to
the  fish  breaking away, the fishermen have to  perform  the   whole
ceremony of propitiation afresh,and they are subjected to the abuse
and jeers of their more successful fellow fishermen.






PT. II]                          THE PLA BüK FISHING CEREMONY                        109


       11. Early   in   the   morning   of   the 13th  waxing  of  the  moon  the
ceremony   of  making  offerings  to   the  Spirit  who  owns  the  Golden
Basin  at   the  shrine  on  the  sand  bank,  has  to  be  performed. This
oblation consists of nine tables of sweetmeats,each table having  nine
dishes. Seven of these are presented  to  the  Spirit  of  the  Basin. One
to the Spirit Guardian of  the  Gate, and  one  to  the  Spirit  of  the  Gong.
The offerings  for  the  Spirit  Guardian  of  the  Gate  is  made  at  a  hut,
specially   erected   on   the   sand   bank,  in  front  of  the  boat  landing.
When   these  offerings  have   been made, a fish, the first to be caught,
known as the  Cham  fish (ปลาจ้ำ) is  killed, and  its  head  and  tail  are
presented to the Spirit  of  the  Golden  Basin. The fish  is  prepared  as
food, some  being  spiced  (ลาบ) some  being  made  into salad, some
toasted, some curried, some fried, some  made  into  a plain curry,and
the liver toasted. One  of  each  of  these  dishes  is  placed  on  a  table
with a  bottle  of  spirits, and  nine  tables  are  so  prepared. Seven  are
presented  to  the  Spirit  of  the  Basin, one  to the Guardian of the Gate,
and  one  to  the  Spirit  of  the  Gong.  About   midday   the  second  fish
is caught, killed, and  its  flesh, with  spirits, is presented   to  the  Spirit
of the Basin, some being offered to the Guardian  of  the  Gate  and  the
Spirit   of  the  Gong. This  presentation  is  made  with  the  same  cere-
mony   as   in  the   morning.  Music  is  played  while  the  ceremony  is
being carried out, flutes and reed pipes being used.

       Early on the morning of  the 14th  waxing  of  the  moon, the  Master
of   Ceremonies   commands   the   Cham, Owner   of  the  Spirit, to  kill
another fish  and  make  offerings  of  the  flesh  to  the  Spirit  Guardian
of   the   caverns, situated  on  the  rocky  cliff  on  the  right  bank  of  the
river, because the subaquatic caverns in  which  the  fish  live  are  near
this spot.The same ceremonial is observed as when making  offerings
to the Spirit of  the  Basin  at  the  Pam  Sai  shrine  on   the  sand  bank,
and when propitiating the Spirit Guardian of the Frontier.

       12.  From    the   moment the  nets  are  dropped  in  the  water, and
trawled or dragged to  catch  the  fish, the  whole  concourse  of  people
present,men,women and children, both fishermen and those who have
come to look on, engage in a  great  tournament  of  abuse, but  offence
is  not taken  because  the  ceremony  has  demanded this observance
from  ancient  times. This  tournament  of  abuse  continues  till  fishing
is over. Abuse as follows is shouted out :—

       พ่อเสี่ยว แม่เสี่ยว เสี่ยว บักเสี่ยว บักหมา บักหัวล้าน บักเฒ่า บัก






110                                          F. H. GILES                               [VOL. XXVIII


หมาสีแม่มึง    กูสีแม่มึง    บักเสียวกูขอสีเมียมึงแด่    กูขอสีลูกสาวมึงนำ    บัก
เฒ่าหัวล้าน    มึงเฒ่าสีตายแล้ว    กะยังมานำเขา    หมาสี่แม่มึง    มึงมานี้    กู
จะไปนอนนำเมียมึง มึงอย่าสูมา มึงคืนเมือสา.

          “ O, my friends, men  and women. Friends, O, friends, O, dogs 0, bald
       headed fools, 0, ancients in thy dotage. A dog shall lay with thy  mother.
       I   will    lay   with   thy  mother. O, Friend, let  me  lay  with  thy  wife. O,
       friend, let  me  lay  with  thy  daughter. O, ancient, bald headed one, thy
       age is great. Death is near  to  thee, yet  thou  comest  with  the  throng.
       A dog  shall  lay  with  thy  mother. As  thou  art  here, I  will  go  and  in
       thy place, lay with thy wife. Do not return home till dawn."
       From very ancient time, to the present  day, the  Spirit  which  enter

the medium has always been a  Kha  (ข่า)  Spirit,  and   as  a  Spirit  of
this nationality, is somewhat  lascivious  and  delights  in  abuse  and
taunts   in   which  the  sexual  relationship  takes  a  prominent  place,
abuse of this nature has been handed down from  father  to  son, and
from mother to daughter, from time  immemorial. The  people  believe
that the form of abuse as given above is as music in  the  ears  of  the
Spirit,  gives  pleasure  to  him  and  they  thus   gain   his   favour. The
people also hold that if they did not abuse each other in the  coarsest
language the fish would not enter their nets.

       13. When the left bank of the river Me Khong  was  Siamese  territ-
ory, no fee, duty or royalty was levied in cash on the catch,as the price

of the fish tail (ค่าหางปลา), but a payment  in  kind  was  mad e on  the
following  scale. If  one or  two  fish  only  were  caught  there  was  no
payment, but if three, then  one  fish  was  given, and  if  six, two  were
given. One  fish  was  reserved  for  feeding  the  Spirit. Since  the  left
bank has become French territory, a royalty of  ten  piastres  is  levied
in cash for each fish caught, which is called  the  price  of  the fish tail.
The first  fish  caught  is  bought  by  the  Lord  of  the  Waters  (เจ้าน้ำ),
and used for feeding the Spirits. The price paid  is  30  piastres  irres-
pective  of   whether  the  fish  is  big  or  small, the  owner  thus  only
receives 20 piastres. Should the  people  of  the  right  bank  catch  a
fish and keep it on  their  bank, which  is  Siamese  territory, they  still
have to pay 10 piastres to the  Lao  Chief  of  Vieng  Chandr  to  cover
the expenses incurred  in  connection  with  the  fishing  ceremonies.
This price of the fish  tail  is not  paid  to  the  State. The  ceremonies
depicted in this paper are performed on the left bank of the river.






PT. II]                       THE PLA BüK FISHING CEREMONY                      111


       14. The maximum catch in the Golden Basin in  a  season  does
not exceed one hundred fish, and the  minimum  is  about  thirty. The
weight of an average sized fish is about 270 lbs.and the eggs weigh
about 6 ½ lbs. Whole fish are sold at prices ranging  from  40  to  80
piastres. When the royalty on a fish has been paid, the  owner  is  at
liberty to take it  to  his  home. It  is  here  killed, and  the  retail  price
of  the  flesh  is  about  Tc. 1 for 1 lbs, and of the eggs Tc. 1  for  150
grammes. The people consider the flesh and  eggs  to  be  a  great

       As many as 1,000 seine boats engage in the pursuit  of  catching
this fish annually. Traders  and  others  are  responsible  for  another
200 boats. The number of persons gathered at one of these festivals
is about 7,000.

       The French authorities permit the people to indulge in every form
of gamblings free. Opium addicts are allowed to smoke  opium  with-
out molestation. Booths for the sale of  food, drink, and  other  things
are scattered along the river bank. The people are showing signs of
losing their belief in the necessity for the observance  of  these  rites,
and as it is probable that this ceremonial  festival  will  disappear  in
a few years, I have thought it wise to  make  a  permanent  record  of
it, with the incantations,before decadence has set in,and the festival


                                                                                     F. H. Giles.







112                                                                                        [VOL. XXVIII



                 Doctor H. McCormick Smith's Letter.


                                                       Department of Fisheries,
                                                                 October 27, 1933.

Dear Mr. Giles,


       The Pla Bük of  Mekhong  is  a  catfish  belonging  in  the  genus
Pangasius which has numerous species(about 12) in Siam,Malaya,
Dutch East Indies, Indochina and India. The  fish  has  unfortunately
been  referred   to  in  some  of   the  local  literature  as  a  sturgeon,
and   this   misstatement   is   constantly  recurring, as  are  other  in-
accuracies and absurdities (as, for instance, that  the Pla  Bük  nour-
ishes its young with milk). So far as  is  known, this  fish  is  peculiar
to the  basin  of  the  Mekhong, but  its  relatives  are  found  in  many
other streams,and among those common and well-known in Siam are
the Pla Tepo, Pla Sawai, Pla Saiyu,Pla Sa.ngkawad, and Pla, Thepa.

       The specific indentity of the Pla  Bük  has  not  been  satifactorily
determined  for  the  reason  that  no  ichthyologist  has  studied  the
young and half-grown individuals or has ever seen a specimen less
than one  and  a  half metres  long. My own  opinion  is  that  the  Pla
Bük  may  prove  to  be  an  overgrown  stage  of   a   species   which
when smaller is recognized  under  another  name, but  speculation
on this point is not  very  profitable  and  settlement  of  the  question
must be deferred until studies can be made at the spawning grounds
at Luang Prabang or  until  young  specimens  are  available  for  ex-
amination. A   very  interesting  feature  of  the  fish  is  the  complete
absence of teeth and, in consequence, the fish has become a vegeta-
rian,  subsisting   entirely   on   algae  or  other  aquatic  plants.  This
absence of teeth has been assumed to be of taxonomic importance by
M. Chevey, of   Indochina, who  has  recently  bestowed  on  the  fish
a new generic and specific name, Pangasianodon gigas; but I have
found that in Pla Sawai the teeth completely disappear  by  the  time
the fish reaches a length of 70 or 75 cm.

    This Pla Bük is found throughout the Mekhong at least  as high
up as Chiengsen. At the end of the  rainy  season, when  the  floods
have subsided, the fish undertakes  a  definite  upstream  migration







PT. II]                       THE PLA BüK FISHING CEREMONY                      113


which carries it to Luang Prabang by the latter part of February.
Spawning is said to take place in Lake Tali, and the fish remain in
the vicinity of Luang Prabang and are caught there as late as June
when, apparently, the downstream migration of adults and young

       The Laos at Luang Prabang have some peculiar notions about the
Pla   Buk  but  apparently  possess  little  information. One  of  their
curious beliefs is that only the female fish migrate up the river and
that the male fish, with  yellow  scales, await  the  arrival  of  the  fe-
males at  Lake Tali, which  water  the  males  never  leave. On  the
other hand, the fishermen at Vientien and Nongkai  report  the  pre-
sence of males in the annual upstream migration ; and I  have  no
doubt that both sexes are represented throughout the fish's range.

       I have been to the annual fishery above Nongkai, and I have there
measured and photographed a fish that was 2.47 m. long. There are
authentic records of fish 3.00 m. long, and length of even 3.5 m.  has
been reported.

Sincerely yours,
H. M. Smith.

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