The annual Poi Sang Long ceremony got away in the northern Thailand city of Mae Hong Son (province [of the] three mists) today, April 6.
|Day two of the Poi Sang Long ceremony in Mae Hong Son. Video John Le Fevre|
Practised by the Shan people of Burma and Northern Thailand, Poi Sang Long — Festival (of the) Crystal Sons — is a rite of passage ceremony undergone by boys between seven and 14 years of age.
The three day Poi Sang Long ceremony traces its origins back to the tale of Prince Rahula, the son of Buddha, who gave up his worldly possessions to follow his fathers teachings, becoming the first novice Buddhist monk and youngest ordained Buddhist monk 2,535 years ago.
As part of the Poi Sang Long ceremony young boys first have their heads shaved by parents and family members, before being bathed, anointed with herbal waters and then dressed to resemble princes from bygone eras.
After having their faces embellished to make them as beautiful as possible, the would-be novice Buddhist monks are then carried around from temple to temple to seek forgiveness from the cities abbots.
Each boy is assigned three family members to accompany him on his rounds. One is to carry an umbrella to protect him from the sun, the second to carry him, and the third to protect his jewels.
Each of the family member takes turns to carry the would-be Buddhist monk on his rounds of the city temples, as according to Poi Sang Long tradition, his feet are only allowed to touch the ground either inside a family home or a temple for the duration of the ceremony.
To ensure this does not occur, and as testimony to the dedication of their carers, the Poi Sang Long initiates wear long white socks for the three days of the ceremony.
|Day three sees the initiates taken to Don Chedi temple for formal initiation ceremony. Video John Le Fevre|
On the second day of the Poi Sang Long ceremony the boys are part of a large procession of floats and musicians that winds its way through the street of Mae Hong Son.
The Poi Sang Long ceremony comes to a head on the third day when the initiates are taken to the Don Chedi temple for the formal ordination ceremony that will see them admitted as Buddhist monks.
As the carers who have looked after them for the past three days partake of a banquet and not inconsiderable amounts of rice wine as reward for their endeavours, the novice monks are presented to the senior abbot and seek ordination.
The boys then go through the formal Poi Sang Long ceremony, including the taking of Buddhist vows. Their lavish clothes and makeup are removed and they change into the saffron robes of a novice Buddhist monk.
It is believed that by participating in the Poi Sang Long ceremony and joining the monkhood the boys will gain merit for their parents.
While some of the newly initiated monks will stay in the monkhood for as little as one week following the Poi Sang Long ceremony, others will devote their lives to studying Buddhism doctrine.
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He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.
He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.
In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.
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