The Body, Merit-Making and Ancestor Worship: Mask Festivals in Thailand and Laos

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Ya-Liang Chang

Abstract

Merit-making is a very important part of life for the people living along the Thai-Lao border. People make merit to pray for good luck and keep misfortune away. They do this at mask festivals, such as the Phi Ta Khon Festival in Thailand and the Pu Nyeu Nya Nyeu Festival in Laos. These two mask festivals not only have a cultural connection, but also represent local narratives through mask performances in order to achieve the religious purpose of worshipping local gods or spirits, also known as merit-making. People believe that if they make merit to local spirits and ghosts, their lives will go smoothly and be bountiful. This study uses field work to understand how people use their bodies as a medium to connect to the merit-making concept at mask festivals. The results show the following: the locals of Dansai and Luang Prabang join mask festivals to create a relationship between their bodies and merit-making through mask-making or cosplay. Also, it is found that merit-making is closely related to people’s everyday lives in Thailand and Laos.

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