The festival is a call for rain and a celebration of fertility. In the afternoon, people gather in the fields on the outskirts of villages and towns to launch self-made firework rockets. Different communities compete for the best decorated and the highest travelling rocket. Men disguised as women perform vaudeville acts using wooden phalli in order to anger the gods. As revenge, the gods are expected to send thunderstorms.
What is Boun Bang Fai?
The Boun Bang Fai or Rocket Festival, marks the sixth month of the lunar calendar. During the festival, rockets are fired into the air to ask the god of rain to help nature a good harvest free from drought, floods or pests.
Traditionally, rockets are made by stuffing gunpowder into elaborately decorated bamboo. But today, many different materials are used, including glass or metal piping. They come in a variety of sizes from very small to very large.
When ready, the rockets are carried to a communal launch-pad. There are numerous types, each serving an individual purpose. The rocket designed to carry prayers to the rain god during Boun Bang Fai, is known as a Hang or Meun-Saen. The Ma is used to mark the passing of someone important. And Chi Nay, Ta Lai and Phu, mark the beginning of important ceremonies and festivals.
Prior to Boun Bang Fai, each village puts together a committee to organize all aspects of the festival, including inviting other villages, introducing rules and safety measures and organizing pirzes for the best rockets.
On the day of the festival, the Boun Bang Fai becomes a toughly contested completion, which generally only bamboo rockets are allowed to enter. First, each rocket is inspected and categorized. Scores are given for the highest flyer, the most beautiful decoration, and the most entertaining team; a category in which just about anything goes, from elaborate masks to men wearing women’s clothes, while women dance and sing. If any of the rockets fail to explode, the team’s technician and leader are forced to drink muddy water or Satho (rice whisky).
Throughout the celebrations, hosts prepare a variety of traditional food for their guests.
These days, the size and location of the event is controlled due to numerous safety concern, including limited space and overlaps with aircraft routes. But nevertheless, most continue to celebrate the festival in one way or another.
In Vientiane Capital, Boun Bang Fai is organized in the outskirts of the city of avoid damage to property and help keep participants safe. The most famous events are held in the surrounding villages of Nason, Natham, Thongmang, Kern, Pakhanhoung and many others.