It doesn’t matter what the occasion is, village celebrations always have a few constants – namely copious amounts of pork and rice whisky. The latest celebration held was a welcoming party for the new Chief of the village – Doong Jahn who gets to take over the ‘official’ chief title of Pa Luang (meaning Big Daddy). The Chief is determined by a village election after which the position is held for a five year term. Pa Luang acts as Chief not only for Huay Pakoot but the nearby village of Huay Bong which is not large enough to require a Chief of its own. The lead up to the election and the election itself was very low key – we only found out a new Chief had even been elected after the event had occurred. Luckily we were better informed for the party!
There are not many things worth missing a day of elephant watching for, but the Chief’s party was deemed worthy. It felt strange getting up in the morning and putting on my Karen skirt and even a little bit of make-up rather than my usual muddy hiking clothes. The party began at around 9am on a Tuesday morning with two massive pigs being prepared. Many of the men of the village were squatting on a platform built underneath Pa Luang’s house with chopping boards and machetes in front of them pounding the pork into a fine mince or slicing it for the barbecue.
The preparations for the food are as much a part of the ceremony as the eating itself. Rice whisky shots were shared generously amongst all the males of the village and us golahs (visitors or foreigners), particularly by Buff Grandad – one of our favourite villagers who is always in the middle of the action. Village women don’t really drink and the men and women are usually fairly separate at a party, fulfilling different roles in food preparation. The party was an all day feast with pork being passed around as soon as it was ready. All parts of the pig were used – intestines, kidneys, liver etc. and cooked in different ways – some also eaten raw with mint. While we had our first samples of the delicious meat, preparations for other meals continued until lunch time when the guests split off into groups to eat. Following lunch we sat around chatting to everyone, shared a couple more rice whisky shots and then before we knew it more food was being brought out for the next meal.
In addition to the fun of food and drinks and the celebratory atmosphere, village events are a perfect opportunity for us to really become a part of the village. It’s a chance to talk to people we don’t know as well or see often, to practise our Pakinyaw language skills and to learn about the way things are done here. Celebrations have a great community feel about them, and we are always made to feel very welcome.