A Buddhist, a Catholic, and an Animist Walk into the Woods

I’ll explain. Last weekend we were invited to attend a Karen forest preservation ceremony in a small village outside Lamphun, Thailand. We were told that we might be the first foreigners ever to visit that village. We’re pretty sure that was not the case… but we were definitely a novelty.

karen-girls

I don’t think white people go up that way too often (there must have been 30 people who came up to us asking for photos with us).

tree-ribbon

The purpose of the ceremony was forest preservation: very vital to the Karen way of life. The orange ribbons were part of the ceremony: it involved tying a ribbon round a tree, along with a toenail clipping and piece of your hair, in order to “claim” the tree.

chanting-monks

The religious aspects of the ceremony were unexpected. Because the Karen wanted to be unified in the name of preserving the forest, the ceremony incorporated aspects of all three major Karen belief systems: Buddhism, animism, and Christianity.

monks-priest

Watching a Catholic mass surrounded by a line of Buddhist priests is an interesting sight to see.

weaving

The day wasn’t just about the forest. It was also a time to learn, in a very hands-on way, about Karen culture: spinning wool, making rice whiskey, tasting rice whiskey, etc. It almost felt like a field trip.

mud-wrestling

Mud boxing closed out the day. I don’t know if it was very “traditional,” but it was fun.

mud-wrestling-josh

Josh represented Team USA. He lost. Live to fight another day, Josh.