No 3, Vol.10 , September    October 2015

At Nam Lum Creek, playing in the water is serious business

The water-splashing Festival of Thai people at Khong Lao Commune, Phong Tho Dist., Lai Chau Province

North-Westerners say, ‘The Hmong people rely on the clouds, the Yao on fire, the Thai on water.’ Indeed, Thai people have strong folklore faith in water. The most vibrant among their water related customs is the water-splashing festival at Khong Lao Commune by Nam Lum Creek, Phong Tho District, Lai Chau Province.
The water-splashing festival takes place when crops have been harvested and rice seeds have been thrown in preparation for a new crop. It’s the time when baskets are full of rice, people are relaxed and nature is flourishing. According to folklore, Then (King of Heaven) follows the Nam Lum water to come down to have fun and grant good weather, good crops and good health to the people.
During the festival, each village in the area selects a team of young men and a team of girls, who are strong and who have never broken any rule. When all people have gathered near the Nam Lum Creek, the shaman lady begins to make offering of rice bud flowers (a kind of forest flower) to invite Then to join the fun.
First, villagers compete in catching fish with their bare hands in the creek. The elders say this is a symbolic ritual to protect the fish resource in the creek.
The rules of water-splashing competition are simple. Two teams line up in the water, about one metre from each other, and begin to splash water on the other team by hand. The team of the first person who falls or gives up loses. People believe that the winning team would bring great crops, health for everybody and peace.
Mr Nong Van Nao, an elder of Khong Lao Commune said, ‘Once upon a time there was a great drought. Nam Lum Creek dried out, causing a great famine. So our ancestors thought of the festival as an occasion to make offerings and invite Then to have fun with the villagers. Miraculously, during the festival it always rains for about 30 minutes. People are happy, thinking that it’s the sign that Then has come down to Khong Lao to have fun. So everybody takes a dip in the creek.’
In the Phong Tho area even old and sick people come to Nam Lum Creek only to wet their hands and feet with creek water and pray Then to grant them health. Everybody believes that Then grants health to all festival participants. The belief is so widespread that even the Thai from Than Uyen and the Yao from Dao San walk hundreds of kilometres to come and join the festival.
The competitions end with a grand scene of water splashing, whereby everybody splashes, sprays and pours water on everyone else. All are dipped in fun and soaked with happiness.n

Text and photo by Long Vu