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Monday, June 28, 2010

Dancing & Trancing in Chiang Mai

Presented as "Fohn-Pii or Ancestor Trance Dance", the recent ceremony at Chiang Mai's Arts and Culture Centre was a rare mass meeting of local shamans. The occasion was to honor the noble ancestor spirits of the Lan Na people, which included members of nobility, heroes and warriors as epitomized by the Three Kings whose monument graces the plaza in front of the Arts and Culture Centre.




A dancing pavillion was set up at the rear of the property and was quite a colorful scene when we arrived. Outside, a large number of non-participants milled around and watched those inside the packed structure, who were mostly shamans and their friends. Musicians playing traditional music added to the crowd. Offerings were arranged at one end of the building, as well as lined up on the floor in the middle where a line dance formed with the shamans brandishing bamboo sticks with a candle on the end.




In addition to dancing in trance, the mediums would also mimic the actions of their ancestral spirit, and of course were dressed appropriately. It was quite a fashion show with red being the preferred color, although many other colors and combinations were worn. Silk was the predominant fabric and was worn as skirts, blouses, headwraps, belts and shouldercloths. Accessories included pins for the hair, turbans, fans, flowers, pipes, and assorted forms of jewelry. Usually composed of matrilineal descent groups, the spirit cults here are predominantly female, tho this affair brought out transgender and gay male shamans as well.


A three day affair, this was the second day and designated as "Wan Fohn", or the day of trance dancing, with the dancing going on all day and well into the night, fueled with rice wine, cheroots, and assorted foods.






A large shrine beyond the pavillion served to both house offerings and act as a photographic background. We were excited to see the use of a 'phaa yan', or yantra textile, as a canopy over the main altar.


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