Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sacred Mekong

A canoe on the Khan River
To Indochina, the Mekong River, which flows from Tibet to the South China Sea over nearly 4,350 km, is the veins and heart which pump blood and life to the regions ecosystems and economies. I spent the last ten days in one place along this vast waterway, nearly in the center, Laos' spiritual capital Luang Prabang. Ive got quite a few stories to tell of Dengue Fever, teaching and learning with wonderful Buddhist monk friends, and plenty of excursions around this wonderful jungle hill area dotted with temples.

Luang Prabang, Laos
Being a river person myself, the Mekong, was like a magnet for my soul because of the ancient history of religion and cultural practices around the river. In caves along the river, some tourist laden, some not, sacred waters are paid homage to and offerings have been made to nature since before modern religions, even one as old as Theravada Buddhism. 

Celebrating a new monk, washing the head monk with sacred water (background)

The 35+ temples of Luang Prabang each have intricate carved Naga, or serpent beings said to inhabit the Mekong. These Naga can be seen protecting the front of temples, the roofs, the candle holders, and in paintings within the temple. During last week, my friend Seng became a monk after five years as a novice. During this time, everyone poured water down a silver Naga (seen above) which went out the mouth into a small enclosure where the head monk was being washed by this sacred water. 

Alms giving and canoe racing
These temples also house racing canoes (Ill unfortunately miss the race in September this year, based on the moon cycles) for their local community which are similar in style to the three planked Mekong canoes, except 15 to 20 meters long, made as dugout canoes to hold dozens of paddlers. More to come on the design of these canoes. The monks bless these canoes, giving good luck to their communities which race them on the Khan River, a tributary to the Mekong.
Wat Mai"s racing canoe, my friend Monk Seng next to it.

Yet my meditations didn't keep me from my passion of making things. I explored the Khan River by bike, looking in each community for those who were building three plank canoes. A plank, with upturned bow and stern either with steaming, force, or by adding small plank, is then given two size planks with simple nails every half foot or so. I spent sometime with one man who was patching an old canoe using a gasoline based pitch.

Patching an old canoe with globs of gasoline tar
Recently cooked, the chunky pitch took but a few hours for it to dry. A decades old canoe could be given much more life by the simple chipping of mud, rot, and resealing. The canoe I spent sometime working on had many layers of patches, making a single meter like a rainbow. Metal, different woods, plastics, rubbers, all keeping a single family's fishing vessel in good order.

One square meter of a mekong canoe

1 comment:

  1. Hey Riverman,

    Looks like you're doin well. When are you getting back? Would love to chat sometime or write or whatever! I'm movin to Colorado at the end of August. If you and Lauren end up there sometime, let me know.

    Sending so much love,