Boun Souang Heua is a part of Lao tradition for many generations, but most younger generations forget as to why we celebrate the festive event, and it might be that the event of Dragon Boat Racing is internationally recognized, well known to all, and has an interesting myth and legend that surround the history of the event. As for our Boun Souang Heau, we also have our history and reasoning behind the event as well, it is held the day after Ork Punsa.
As we all knew that Buddhism is the official religion of Laos, and many religious events are more or less celebrated nationwide. One of the most notable celebrations is at the end of Lent or the Rains Retreat called Ork Punsa. Punsa is the period of three months during which the Buddhist monks are obliged to stay in the monasteries. The end of the Rains Retreat marks the occasion for the monks throughout the country to receive new robes and other necessities in an annual presentation ceremony called Thot Kathin (merit-making ceremony).
According to one of the monks at our local Wat (temple), in Laos, people would choose which Wat they want to Thot Kathin, the temple then place a Kathin flag as an announcement that the Kathin event is to follow. Assuming if there were no flag in front of Wat, then the villagers would join in to Thot Kathin called Kathin Samakee.
Long boats were traditionally built for carrying Buddha images in water-borne processions during the Kathin ceremony. However, they are also designed for racing, victory brought fame to the village or temple that owned the boat. The boats thus have a long and sleek appearance.
The long boats are usually made by hollowing out a tree trunk; wooden planks were added as seats for the oarsmen. Before each race, the boat is repainted, with the bow and stern decorated to resemble Phaya Nark (Naga), lion or other creatures. The outside of the boat is waxed to reduce drag and increase the ease with which the vessel glides through the water.
Since Laos is a river-based culture, the Mekong River is like an artery that runs through our country, it’d only make sense that we’d have competition in the water as part of our sporting events, which is called Long Boat Racing, or Boun Souang Heua, just as land-based cultures race horses or cars, Lao race Long boats. I think Boun Souang Heua is a festive event worth carrying on the tradition, and to understand the true meaning behind it only makes it more special to us.