Thursday, December 3, 2009

Journey into the Sacred Forest

Deep in Dong Phu Vieng national park in central Laos lies a sacred forest. The Katang people who live near the sacred forest (known as Song Sa Kae) believe it is inhabited by a spirit. Upsetting the spirit by cutting the forest’s trees or eating its monkeys is bad news for the person who has committed the offence against the forest. It usually results in illness or death. The only away to appease the spirit is to sacrifice buffalo or chicken. The Katang ethnic minority respect the forest and annually make a buffalo sacrifice where they offer up the buffalo head and its blood and the locals also drink the blood during a ceremony.
Actually there are two forests, separated by a path, near the village of Vongsikeo. We walked for several hours to get there, fording streams and grazing our way through the vegetation - cardamom strips chewed, live large red ants munched (very sweet-tasting), forest floor almond-shaped fruits snapped open and nibbled, mushrooms plucked and devoured.
After a nighttime welcoming ceremony of singing and traditional music, fuelled by bottles of lao-lao (rice firewater), we rose early to enter the forest. Our guide sat down on a mossy fallen log and told us that if a villager commits an offence against the forest the spirit comes and possesses the offender. The village shaman is then consulted and will tell the offender he will die if he doesn’t make amends. As we sat in the early morning and looked at the light filtering through the thick forest, the movement of branches, trees, leaves and birds with ripples of wind, it was hard not to believe in the power of the Katang’s forest spirit.

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