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Photographer's Note

The Mask Markers
In the days and weeks before the festival groups of , mostly adolescent boys or young men are working is sheds, barns and houses, making the spirit masks and the colourful costumes that are traditional to this remote , little town. Before only men took part; as a fertility rite is involves the cult of the male penis, the phallic symbol.
Here a team is preparing their costumes and masks in secret, ready for the big day. There is a spirit of friendly rivalry between the different teams. You can see that the mask is based on the traditional baskets or the area. The top being the basket in which sticky rice is steamed, the bottom part being banana bark. They are painted with colourful lacquers.

This Festival
The Phi Ta Khon festival in Loei in the mountains of North-Eastern Thailand is often called the Ghost Festival. The Spirit Festival would be a better name, since the spirits summoned up are not those of dead people but the spirits of the hills, fields and forests. Its unique character is that most of the men –and today even some women- make and wear their traditional masks and colourful costumes. For two days and nights they will dance and make merry in a wild carnival. Traditionally they believed that they became possessed by the spirits and some still do (alcohol is a more likely explanation) It is wild, chaotic, exhilarating and totally unique to this tiny mountain town. The masks are made and decorated according to tradition handed down across the generations..

South East Asian fertility Rites.
Phi Ta Khon, is a fertility rite. It has nothing to do with Buddhism, but harks back to pre-Buddhist Spirit worship, which still exists in country areas. It also reflects ancient Hindu beliefs. They are held in many places and take place before the start of the monsoon. The idea is to awaken the spirits to send the rain. Rain is a matter of life of death here. These rites are not dissimilar to the Western traditions of Carnival and Mardi Gras. They are so deeply embedded in the cultures of these areas that they thrive despite the arrival of Buddhism and the age of technology. They are all different but share certain characteristics.
These include…
wild dancing and drinking.
Processions of the different communities , showing the tradition and skills.
Man stripping off and painting their bodies black. To dance for the spirits.
Men dressing as women in a humorous way.
Men covering their bodies in mud.
Processions of pretty girls and handsome boys.
The cult of the male penis. The phallic symbol.
Bawdiness as related to fertility.

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Additional Photos by kevin o'sheehan (kevinos) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1023 W: 173 N: 1802] (7517)
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