Calling of the Soul – The Laotian Baci Ceremony

One of the most important customs of Laotian culture is unquestionably the revered Baci ceremony. Also known as su kwan (meaning ‘calling of the soul’), the origins of this spirit-calling ritual stem from the ancient belief that there are 32 organs in the human body, each with its own guardian spirit known as kwan. The soul, therefore, is a union of and under constant protection of these kwan.

When Baci is Performed

This centuries-old ceremony is held to commemorate special occasions during one’s lifetime, from starting a new job, housewarming, marriage, giving birth, a wedding, the Lao new year and more to maintain balance and promote harmony within the human body.

Conversely, ill-health and misfortune are often attributed to kwan having wandered away from the body, so the Baci ceremony is invoked during sad times to recall or re-balance the spirits.

The Baci Ritual

This ritual first involves a small table arrangement prepared by an elderly woman, known as the Pa Kwan. Symbolic food offerings line the outer edge of the arrangement, while at the center is a cone-shaped tree made of banana leaf and adorned with flowers. The ceremony’s honoured guests kneel in front of this tree, which acts as a centrepiece for the ritual.

An elderly man (the mor phon, often a Buddhist monk) chants prayers in the religious Pali language while the other attendees observe in silence. After invoking both Buddhist and animist deities to return spirits back to the body, a white cotton string is tied around the wrist of the honoured guests to hold the kwan in place and preserve their good luck.

Upon conclusion of the ceremony, the guests shower each other with milled rice for good fortune and partake in a feast of food and rice wine along with Laotian song and dance.

Baci with Heritage Line

The time honoured Baci ceremony is held on each of Heritage Line Anouvong’s journeys to welcome passengers on their voyage along the upper Mekong River.

Join us aboard the majestic Heritage Line Anouvong, which begins sailing 3-, 7- and 9-night cruises along the captivating landscapes and remote native communities of the Laotian Mekong in 2022.

Photo sources:
Large group 1 (top-left): Johannes Lundberg

Large group 2 (top-right): School for Kids in Laos
Tree and elderly woman (botton-left): Jean-Pierre Dalbéra