Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bun Bang Fai

 


These Buddhist festivals are presumed to have evolved from pre-Buddhist fertility rites held to celebrate and encourage the coming of the rains, from before the 9th Century invention of black powder. This festival displays some earthy elements of Lao folklore. Coming immediately prior to the planting season, the festivals offer an excellent chance to make merry before the hard work begins; as well as enhancing communal prestige, and attracting and redistributing wealth as in any Gift culture.

Scholars study the centuries old rocket festival tradition today as it may be significant to the history of rocketry in the East,[2]and perhaps also significant in the postcolonial socio-political development of the Southeast Asian nation states. Economically, villages and sponsors bear the costs in many locations in Laos and in northern Isan (Northeast Thailand). The festivals typically begin at the beginning of the rainy season, in the sixth or seventh lunar months.

Anthropology Professor Charles F. Keyes advises, "In recognition of the deep-seated meaning of certain traditions for the peoples of the societies of mainland Southeast Asia, the rulers of these societies have incorporated some indigenous symbols into the national cultures that they have worked to construct in the postcolonial period.[3] Giving the "Bun Bang Fai or fire rocket festival of Laos" as one example, he adds that it remains "…far more elaborate in the villages than in the cities…."







Related to the Chinese Fire Arrow, Bang Fai are made from bamboo bongs. Most contemporary ones, however, are enclosed inpvc piping, making them less dangerous by standardizing their sizes and black-powder charges (which contest rules require be compounded by the rocketeers, themselves). Baking or boiling a bong kills insect eggs that otherwise hatch in dead bamboo and eat it, inside out. Skipping this step may cause the bong to disintegrate and melt the pvc piping. Vines tie long bamboo tails to launching racks. The time it takes for the exhaust to burn through the vines (usually) allows a motor to build up to full thrust; then the tails impart in-flight stability. Ignition comes from a burning fuse or electric match.

Bang Fai come in various sizes, competing in several categories. Small ones are called Bang Fai Noi (Thaiน้อย). Larger categories are designated by the counting words for 10,000, 100,000 and 1,000,000: Meun (Thaiหมื่น) "Saen" (Thaiแสน) and the largest Bang Fai, the Lan (Thaiล้าน). These counting words see use in many contexts to indicate increasing size or value.Lan in this context may be taken to mean extremely large as well as extremely expensive and extremely dangerous: Bang Fai Lan are nine metres long and charged with 120 kg of black powder. These may reach altitudes reckoned in kilometres, and travel dozens of kilometres down range (loosely speaking, as they can go in any direction, including right through the crowd). Competing rockets are scored for apparent height, distance, and beauty of the vapour trail (Thaiไอ). A few include skyrocket pyrotechnics. A few also include parachutes for tail assemblies, but most fall where they may.

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